Monday, February 28, 2005
I need to get a pipe!
Alright, I take off a day or so from blogging, and cyber-space zaps past me. My friend Tod Bolsinger has a wonderful series of posts on Perfect Church here and here. In particular, take a few moments and read the comments. Wonderful stuff. Really great - a collection of people who really care and are passionate about the church. A conversation about what the church could actually be, as opposed to whining (which I do lots) about what it is not. Could this be another Bolsinger book in the making? I sure hope so!
Here are my thoughts on the Perfect Church. First off, please, please, watch this movie as a partial but important illustration to my response. Brother Sun, Sister Moon, released in 1972, is the story of the life of St. Francis of Assisi. This movie, more than any other for me illustrates many of my ideals of the church, more so in the character of Francis and his friends, but also with small peeks at what a church should be. The movie is over the top in some ways, but wonderfully simple in its presentation of changed lives for Christ. Also, Donovan fans will love it.
Second, here are my "Top Ten" of Perfect Church Requirements:
10. Never having to hear, "We've never done it that way before!"
9. Missions, missions; urban, suburban, national and international.
8. A sense of constant call to those who do not know Christ, and a will for all to be completely welcoming
7. Willingness to experiment, and fail if necessary, with new ways to reach out - to welcome the questioning and lost
6. Sermons that connect the ancient mystery of the Gospel to the challenges of living in the modern world
5. A congregation that is intentional about welcoming anyone, regards of race, clothing, income, etc.
4. Joy, laughter, and endless enthusiasm for building community. Ability to be flexible and "messy" Christian folk
3. Flexibility in worship, and a congregation that works toward excellence and creativity in worship.
2. The Gospel proclaimed faithfully by a staff that reflects the mercy and love of Jesus.
1. Lives transformed, consistently, remarkably by the grace of Christ.
Friday, February 25, 2005
This is simply not right. I know. Our dearest friends have a family member who is living in sub-acute care, and slowly declining from Huntingtons Disease. His name is Bee, (known affectionately as Mr. Bee, to those who love him). He is about my age. He is my friend, and each time we visit him, he always tells me that he loves me; he like to repeat that. A lot.
Bee has an MBA, was once married, and has just about the sweetest heart of any man I know. He is more cognitive than Terry Shiavo, but cannot care for himself anymore, and requires round-the-clock medical assistance. The doctors and nurses who work with him are wonderful.
Bee cannot eat normally like the rest of us. One of the effects of Huntington's is a constriction of the esophagus to the point that choking on food is common. And so, Bee has a feeding tube. If his feeding tube were removed, he would slowly die, and it would not be pleasant. It would be, in my mind, unspeakably cruel. Bee's extended family understands that although his quality of life is not that of ours, he is still persistently and dearly loved by God, and is one of His children. It is not for us to decide that Bee has become too much of a burden and should be allowed to slowly die. We will stand with Bee's family, as long as God has need of him here with us on earth. Life is not neat; yet it is in the messiness that we find Christ.
It seems that Terry Shiavo's ex-husband has been the primary moving force in disconnecting Terry's feeding tube. Might we all agree to pray for this man, that God might change his heart, and change it soon.
Building a bit of the Kingdom
For the past 10 years or so, my wife has always wanted to celebrate her 40th birthday by building a home for someone less fortunate. Well, 40 came and went, and what with the busy-ness of two daughters in school, multiple sports, church, music lessons, etc, that trip to build the house slipped by.
However, about two months ago, God provided my Nancy with the chance to go to Tijuana to build a home. She is there right now, and I am home with the girls. The team hopes to complete the 14' by 14' home in three days (with the foundation being poured before they arrived), with the help of 25 volunteers from Southern California. Simply stated, this is a very good thing, and it is my hope and prayer that this weekend will be filled with love, laughter, lots of hammering, a roof that doesn't leak, and doors and windows that will emit the sounds of a happy family for many years to come. Solo Deo Gloria.
Thursday, February 24, 2005
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
So very alone...
Interesting. My little bits recently on Homeless Churchie, Perfect Church, and Church Shopping have started the gears turning inside Tod Bolsinger's head. This is great; and perhaps will engender more conversation about what the church does well, and not so well. We might also touch on what the church "blows chunks" at, if you will, to coin a phrase from the eminent pastor KC Wahe.
I have seen quite a bit of church "chuck blowage" in my last 25 years, but have also experienced so many good things, much blessing, and have met the finest, most sincere, honest and wonderful people I know - all in church. A veritable rainbow, if you will.
And now on to today's topic, illustrated above - loneliness. My wife and I have been experiencing quite a bit of this as of late, as we have left the comfortable confines of our church home, after 17 years of involvement. We have, so far, been to two different churches in the past eight months or so, and have visited a third church together as well. As I look back, the common thread is one of a haunting sense of loneliness associated with our church visits. The worship is fine, the sermons are good, even great on some occasions. But the interaction, the "fellowship" if you will, is sadly lacking. If I never showed up again, no one would know, or care.
But our family is doing alright - don't worry about us. We will survive. What I wonder about is this:
What about the experiences of those attending church with real needs? Those not accustomed to the folly of "church" folk. What of those with needs that nearly ooze out of their pores. Relational pain, the loss of someone close to a horrid disease or accident, those who have suffered abuse, or addiction, or great suffering. Others who are profoundly confused, or lost, or just plain mad at God? If my wife and I leave many Sundays feeling strangely lonely, what of these others? What do they think of church? Did someone greet them, ask them their name? Will they come back? Will anyone care?
Or will that deep sense of quiet, relentless, haunting loneliness become, in the words of song writer Bob Bennett, their Shadow Companion? And is the church powerless to combat it? Is our work ever done, as long as one of these still sits quietly in the back, come Sunday morning?
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
A Company of Soldiers
Tonight I had the opportunity to watch the PBS Series Frontline, which presented "A Company of Soldiers", involving a detailed look at a unit in the Army's 8th Cavalry in South Baghdad. This piece was filmed during November 2004, a very rough month indeed. I needed to watch this, as do all of here at home, sleeping well and enjoying our lives. This takes place because men like these are dealing with unspeakable risk and threats each day in Iraq.
Imagine driving to the market or work wondering if every other car was loaded with explosives. Explosives designed to blow you up. Or try out the concept of hidden snipers along the route, targeting your car with not only small arms fire, but rocket propelled grenades. This is only part of what these men face. I was struck by their honor, their devotion, their brotherhood, and sense of duty to both their country and the people of Iraq.
We Americans owe a debt of gratitude beyond words to those who serve our country.
Monday, February 21, 2005
In anticipation of Good Friday and Easter, we must recall that Christ has done something amazing, remarkable, mysterious - an act of love from the heart of God. Perhaps Lent is a time of year we need to remember this, and to ...........slow................down.
Ok, so tomorrow I will spend more time just talking to my wife and children. I will call an old friend and ask how he is really doing. I will put in a call to my aging parents. I will slow down to thank God for what song writer Bob Bennett calls the Small Graces. Amen, and thanks for the reminder, brother Tod.
About fifty jillion years ago, I used to spend time with a group of college aged fellows from my old church. One of these guys had an amazing life story, coming from a dysfunctional family, he attended college, Princeton Seminary, and is now an Associate Pastor in Northern California. He is truly a remarkable reflection of God's grace and mercy, and the transforming power of Christ. I am so proud of my friend, KC.
And now, my old friend, KC Wahe, has a blog. Just about nothing else in the Universe, besides In N' Out burgers, a great 8-iron shot into the green from a tough lie, and my wife (not in that order, honey!) is as cool as this concept. Read this Blog daily, memorize it, and make it a part of your daily bloggage activity. Low in fat, high in protein, use as directed.
The King had a dream....
Recently I heard a series of messages given by Dr. Mark Labberton of First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley. All credit here goes to Dr. Labberton. Below are my simple attempts to process the thoughts of this kind pastor. The series of talks was entitled, Strangers in a Strange Land. The Scripture is from Daniel Chapter 2.
The primary question many of us spend lots of time asking in our lives is:
"Is God able to handle this situation"
Indeed. Is He? Can He? Will He?
In every human heart, there is a longing for a genuine spiritual encounter. Our culture is replete with seeking people; those who want something real, something substantial, not a just a "show" of Christian sounding platitudes. However, if people are longing to experience God, and are seeking Him, how will they know when He has, in fact, "shown up" - made His Prescence real to them?
This was the dilemma of King Nebuchadnezzar. He was seeking for a real,authentic, and trustworthy voice from God. He gave Daniel a real acid test, involving the threat of real violence if he did not get what he wanted. Are we alert and listening to those around us who, more subtly express the same kind of need for God, and that He could actually be known. How well do we listen to those around us, and how often do we tend to "cubby hole" people into categories?
In the midst of the rage of the King, Daniel responded with discretion. Daniel and his friends had practiced their indentity. They were grounded people, they knew to whom they belonged. Are we prepared to trust God for a vision that exceeds our normal grasp of things around us? Daniel and his friends believe that they serve a God who influences all those around them, those who claim to know him, and those who do not. This attitude and the prayer of Daniel clearly distills the character of God who is far larger than our ideas of him.
Sunday, February 20, 2005
Julie and her family
Those faithful who have stopped by this blog in the past, have heard about my friend Julie, who continues to battle cancer. It has been almost a year now since her second cancer event. This time it is very serious, sometimes ugly, and very hard on this dear young family. We spent time with Julie today, praying and singing.
This next week, Julie will be starting radiation for cancer on her spine. She may also be facing the decision to end chemotherapy, as its effects on her physical well being are presently worse than the minor healing effect it appears to be having on her cancer.
Julie would want you to know the following things: God is full of mercy, and He has the power to heal her at any time, in His perfect timing; this cancer is very painful; she is so thankful for those who have prayed for her, supported her family, and loved her during this journey; she is thankful beyond measure for her husband and children; she wants to live, and continue being a wife and mother.
Pray for Julie.
Saturday, February 19, 2005
The Scripture is from Daniel Chapter 1.
Daniel and his friends made the choice to practice their identity in all that they did. Even though they were offered education, housing, food, they chose to remember God. This was not done in the form of martyrdom, or in grand ritual, but every time they ate, they practiced "remembering" to whom they belonged. Yahweh.
We live in a strange way suspended between our physical world and our spiritual lives. The louder, repeating, resounding, more deafening voice is that of the surrounding secular world. It the midst of this cultural influence tidal wave, we Christian folk have.....Sunday worship, perhaps two hours a week, at most. Hundreds of hours immersed in the world versus a brief time on Sunday, if we can make it, the kids are not playing soccer, or we feel like it.
What a stark contrast. In the face of this, how do we practice our distinct Christian identity? Daniel and his friends chose to remember daily the One who appeared to be abscond, but was daily present in their lives. So what do we do? How is our identity derived? How do we live our lives in terms of hearing a Dominant Voice, that of God Himself? And what determines our identity and our worth? Is it our jobs, our education, our looks, our height, abundance of hair, the goods we own, our social standing, who likes us, how we fit into the social fabric of our community? We need a whole new identity. We need that from Christ....
Strangers in a Strange Land by James B. Janknegt's
Recently I heard a series of messages given by Dr. Mark Labberton of First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley. I was captivated by Mark's thoughts, derived from the Book of Daniel. What I would like to do here is share with you a brief overview and reaction to Mark's reflections on the Scripture, and its applications to our lives - in particular how this applies to some of the discussion I have been randomly touching on in terms of Church, Perfect Church, and Searching for Church. All credit to anything good here should be given directly to Dr. Labberton. The series of talks was entitled, Strangers in a Strange Land.
By way of reference, Stranger in a Strange Land is a science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein, which was first published in 1961. It tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human raised by Martians on Mars, as he returns to Earth in early adulthood; the novel explores his interaction with -- and eventual transformation of -- Earth culture.
The Mars analogy works well for how I feel often. I sure like it here on earth, but I know at some level that this is not my home. There is a longing deep within me for something different, more than much of what I find here. Is it my own fear, or is it Heaven calling me? As I go to work each day, even as I spend meaningful and rewarding time with family, there is, what songwriter Sara Groves calls "the echo of a grand design" behind it all.
Can we agree together that there is very little that distinguishes the Christian Church from the broader culture? The divorce rate among Christian people is no different than the general population at large. The American church is often anemic, seemingly (in the words of Chuck Colson) 3,000 miles wide, and an inch deep. Sadly, we Christian folk mirror in large part, much of the folly of the rest of the world. We just try to look good doing it.
We often live as if in exile, "holding on" here on earth, until the Promised Land arrives. We are meant to be changed, and be agents of Devine Change. Perhaps we have surrendered practicing our real identity. Perhaps we need to learn new ways to tell our story of true identity.
The Scripture is from The Book of Daniel, Chapter 1. Read it first. Go ahead, feel free. We are called to be Strangers in a Strange Land. More in the next post.
Thursday, February 17, 2005
Now, remember on the old (good, and really funny) Saturday Night Live when Dan Ackroyd and Jane Curtain used to do "Point, Counterpoint"? Well, here is the "Counterpoint" post on the power of what blogs can accomplish. We who think ourselves so cool and hip to be blogging would do well to take these points into consideration.
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Oh look, the perfect family at the Perfect Church!
You might recall I have been thinking recently about the concept of "The Perfect Church". I had an interesting conversation with a friend today on the phone (again not accomplishing anything for the American economy). He has recently moved churches, in a situation similar to our family, and has found a new church home in which his children, aged 11 and 9, can thrive. As for he and his wife, well, that is another matter. Seems this church does not really believe in leadership roles for women, and might be a bit autocratic in its leadership styling. Well, imagine that. And you thought dancing and drinking were bad news!
My friend made a comment during our chat that caught me off guard, but was actually quite generous in its tone. He said,
"We have learned to lower our expectations. What we are looking for is aAs I have reflected on this, I have two strains of thought, in keeping with my slightly bi-polar personality.
place where our kids can learn and grow in a healthy, nuturing place with good
Christian ed. As for my wife and I, the expectations are different. We are really just looking for something that is not really bad! If we approach it that way, we can't be that disappointed".
First, maybe it is alright for us to lower our expectations. Wait, maybe its ok for ME to lower MY expectations. I have high ones you know. Just ask my kids! Sheesh....Daaaad, give me a break. Perhaps I am too judgmental, and I demand too much from the church. Maybe its a result of going to school where expectations have always been high. Or maybe, because I know some really good pastors, who have really healthy churches. Or maybe its that darn wonderful seminary near our house, where so many of our friends have gone, and we continue to meet outstanding people. I need to relax. Lower the bar, slack off, take it easy. Mellow out, dude.
But wait a second here. Maybe we need to think more about our expectations. Seems that some famous church fathers have, in the past, in letters to some rather wacky congregations. Are we to settle for "not really bad"? With St Paul I have to shout, "Certainly not!" Perhaps we have to raise the bar, demand more from Christian community, and work hard to achieve authentic communities where people can discover a way of life and a gathering of believers that points the way to a remarkable Savior.
Coming next....discussion of how we might begin to do that....
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
My daughter says I never do anything productive at work. What does she know!?
Here I am, today, discovering that it is not good to pour coffee into the CD drive on my desktop PC before saving the crucial client file to the hard drive. Stay tuned, more office management efficiency tips forthcoming.
Monday, February 14, 2005
So, is it really hot, or not? This article from the Wall Street Journal discusses some interesting facts about a controversy over the issue of global warming. See also, this web site for more details on whether its really hot or not.
While I feel that environmental stewardship is very important for us to consider and perhaps embrace as Believers, I am also very hesitant to believe everything I am told by UN climate study experts. Read the Journal article for more on this. I have to go now, and denude some forests, create a toxic spill plume in my backyard, and squash small helpless endangered bugs with my hiking shoes.
Alright, I confess right here my predominant ignorance of which is the most correct Bible version. However, Mark Roberts has started an interesting series of posts on the new TNIV (which does not stand for Truly Neat Incredible Version, nor Those Naughty Inspired Visions) Bible, which has recently been released. Seems there is some disagreement brewing in Happy Evangelical Land over this one. I trust Mark will deliver us a helpful and thorough overview of the matter, which really will be helpful to understand the issues involved. Mark is a good man.
As for me, after discerning this matter, I will know exactly, precisely, and without question what is the perfect will of God regarding the correct Bible version to carry in my oversized, leather clad, bumper sticker-covered Bible book cover (which can also be used to thonk theologically incorrect clods over the head!). Thank goodness for self righteousness. Amen.
Saturday, February 12, 2005
Under the Acacias.
One more item. For the most balanced thinking on the political dangers of pulpiteering I have seen in a long time, please check out this post from Rob Asghar.
Friday, February 11, 2005
We have several friends who have been church shopping for more than 10 years. Actually, we know lots of people like this. Most seem to be under 40, and constantly in search of just the right blend of hip worship music, sermons that encourage without threatening, and a latte bar that serves biscotti with just the right amount of crunch to it.
Ok, maybe not the last bit. However, constant church shopping eventually becomes sad, has a tendency to fracture our lives in Christian community, and can lead to behavior noted here. Many of these folks never seem to find the "perfect church". Come to think of it, the concept of a perfect church is a bit creepy. Just think of it. Everyone smiling and happy, no problems, really good snacks on the patio, no conflict, short and efficient committee meetings. Yikes! Does such a thing exist? Indeed, should it even exist? Discussion for another day.
There are those who final decide to settle in. And this is one of my favorite stories, given the changes our family has been going through these past months. During the past year, as our family has had to adjust to worshipping at a different place each week, something wonderful is happening at a small church in Pasadena.
Interestingly enough, there is a small group of Christian men who meet in an office suite directly across from mine in Old Town Pasadena. Each Wednesday, as I come to work around 7:30 AM, I can see the lights on in the suite across the hall. Ranging in age from mid 30s to mid 40s, these men have been supporting each other for a number of years. They have seen weddings, family struggles, and the birth of children together. One is a film maker, another a financial planner, a third a stock market investor. There is also a landscape architect, and a youth ministry worker. These are varied friendships that have lasted through a common bond in Christ. One member has a wife who is on the faculty of a seminary.
Interestingly, this group is also almost entirely comprised of several families that are very accomplished at church shopping. They have been visiting churches in our area for over 5 years. Stopping in to a new church for a couple of weeks, then moving on; never quite finding what they wanted. Never quite right. This porridge is too hot, that is too cool. Where is the "just right" bowl?
The Sanctuary of Knox Presbyterian Church in Pasadena
Finally, one Sunday not long ago, the corporate journey of wandering ended. This group of connected families that grew out of this small group... all agreed to rendevous at a small Presbyterian church in town, one that had been dwindling in membership for a number of years, with the congregation aging. To make a longer story short, they have decided, together, that finally they will settle here, in this little church, warts and all. God seems to be working in the hearts these families, as they have joined the church, and are beginning to sink down roots of faith in a congregation that is happy to welcome them. Pray for the members, old and new, of Knox Presbyterian Church. This could be a journey worth watching!
Thursday, February 10, 2005
As I mentioned to Rob in a recent email, Coach Wooden has, for me, been a hero, a role model, and a literary mentor of sorts. I have read most everything he has written; each full of wisdom, grace and experience from life. While I attended UCLA a few years after Coach retired, I felt the influence he left on the University for many years to come. Rarely has such a quiet, gentle man of profound faith, has such a lasting affect on athletics. Rob Asghar says it much better than I can. However, Mr. Asghar might also want to read this.
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Throughout my pastoral tenure at Irvine Presbyterian Church I’ve put ashes on hundreds of foreheads. It’s both a strange and a wonderful thing to do. It’s strange to tell people, in so many words, “You’re mortal and you’re going to die.” Yet it’s wonderful to remind people of why they need a Savior, and to invite them to begin getting ready for a deeper experience of God’s grace on Good Friday and Easter – even seven weeks before Holy Week begins.
I remember distinctly times when I have put ashes on the forehead of a dear member of my church who was nearing death. And I remember occasions when I have imposed ashes on the foreheads of newborn infants. The point is that, whether old or young, we are all mortal. We are all caught in death grip of sin. And we all need a Savior.
Indeed, we do.
Baby Back Ribs with Lemon Confit Marinade
First off, go here to find a great list of the winners of the first awards for best evangelical blogs, including my friend Mark Roberts. Now, on to more cooking, chopping, and grating.
Hebrews 10:23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one anotherand all the more as you see the Day approaching.After the last post, you should have completely messed up your kitchen counter, and possibly even begun saying bad words to yourself. Cooking is messy, unless you microwave your entire menu like this. Life is messy too. The church can be a very messy place, and so can trying to find a church that fits just right. Or is that what we should be doing in the first place? Where does the Scripture tell us, "thou shalt looketh for a great long time for a fellowship of saints, and not settle thee in until you findeth a place that is just alright in all things completely."
Right now, in our family we attend between two and three churches each Sunday. We are very religious! Ha! The reason for this is singular - we have daughters aged 11 and 14, both of whom are involved in good youth programs that nuture their growing faith. To our frustration, these youth groups are not at the same church. However, we are becoming logistical experts, with the carpooling, pick up and drop off prowess of FedEx. The spiritual health of our kids is our first priority. My wife and I have made the decision that, for this season in our lives, "it is not about us" - it is all about the health, growth, and development of our girls relationships with Christ.
That is all that matters. We are grown ups (well, I am most of the time). Over the past week, as I have reflected on all this, I have slowly become more aware of the big problem in this church hunt. Me. My judgmental heart, my longing for perfection, my baggage and frustration with the past; in short, my weakness. Perhaps that is why I have always identified at the deepest level with this verse. I need more grace, and I need to reflect it more in all I do, including my searching.
If you are interested in this whole concept of church, what it means, why it is important, take a look at this recent article in Christianity Today by Tim Stafford. This sums it up far better than I can.
Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Jamie Oliver has never seen a recipe like ours!
In the several weeks I have been blogging, I have been carefully avoiding the largest issue in the spiritual life of our family. You see, we Norris family are a somewhat, sad yet hopeful, wandering yet found, happy yet pessimistic, conflicted yet at-peace bunch. We are, as of this writing, without a church home for the first time in our lives together. How can this be, you wonder?
Well, here is the receipt for living at our home: Take two forty-something adults, blend well with more than 16 years of marriage, child rearing, career developing, laughter and tears, and a wonderful church home. To this mixture add one 11 year old vivacious girl, and then spice with a dash of a 14 year-old girl, with a mind of her own (sprinkle in liberally -"adolescent attitude"). Whisk repeatedly with the busyness of life.
To this stock add the profound disappointment of leaving said church home after 17 years. (Reasons for the leaving are best left unsaid, but in the interest of full disclosure, will color the comments I make going forward). This ingredient has the tendency to sour the mix, so counter this with some rum or wine, your choice.
Next begins the chopping and grating portion of the recipe, and our journey, together and apart as a family attempting to follow Christ.
Monday, February 07, 2005
Sunday, February 06, 2005
If you will look over this post, you will know that our dear friend Julie has been struggling with very serious cancer. Tonight, we learned that Julie is back in the hospital, in a great deal of pain.
By way of the good people at Whittingshire, may I encourage you with this thought:
"We can't pray for everyone. But we can each pray for someone. Before you go to bed tonight, think of someone who is grieving, lonely, ill, or in pain; someone who is stumbling because of his own flaws, or because of someone else's; someone who is hurtling toward disaster, or crawling toward good. Someone you know personally, or someone you don't. Choose someone, and then--for her sake, your sake, and heaven's sake--pray."
Might you pray for Julie...tonight?
Friday, February 04, 2005
Thursday, February 03, 2005
In March of 1956, Winston Church gave a speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri with this remarkable quote:
From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow.
And so, almost 40 years later, the curtain had not lifted, and our ragtag band of European, South African and American missionaries spent our summers smuggling Bibles into the Soviet block, in order to encourage the persecuted church. In my previous post, I began to relate my experiences in Eastern Europe prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain. Our starting point was a farmhouse in The Netherlands, and unlikely base camp for counter espionage efforts for the Kingdom of God.
During our time resting and preparing in Holland, one of the disciplines the directors of the mission asked us to practice was prayer. During all the waking hours, there would consistently be someone praying in a small room on the second floor of the farmhouse. This way, the theory went, the work of the mission would always be covered in prayer. As a part of this prayer discipline, a kind of scrapbook had been prepared with photographs and biographies of all of the leaders, and even sublieutenants of the Eastern Block. Talk about "scrapbooking", remove the "s", was more like it! We were asked to spend a period of time praying for these men....
There I sat, the little young missionary from America, with my scrapbook of commies. I will never forget what went through my mind during that time of flipping through the book of photos. My thought was "Oh please, God! I believe in you and love you with all my heart. But can you really do anything about these guys, I mean, really?! These are the leaders of the Soviet Block, for heavens sake! These are really bad guys, and they have a LOT of really large missiles, and tanks, and guns. And none of them are even smiling in these pictures here! This is never going to happen! How about I just pray for my relationship with that girl I like back home instead?" My faith was tiny and thin. But, I remembered something about praying for your enemies.....
So, doubtfully, hesitantly, and well, obediently I prayed. And over the 10 or more years that ministry had been in existence, other people before me had been praying. For many years after they prayed.....day in, and day out. And undoubtedly, so did countless faithful Believers behind the Iron Curtain - for year upon year - praying for the eventual demise of the system that had repressed them for years. Slowly, deliberately, the wall was beginning to splinter, from deep inside its base.
Five years later, I was celebrating Christmas with my family in Toronto, watching on the news as the Iron Curtain crumbled.
God can move mountains, and walls. He is doing so today, all around us. Might we have eyes to see, and ears to hear the silent, sometime nearly imperceptible sound of movement.
Wednesday, February 02, 2005
My more liberal friends will excuse me for a moment if I offer this. Tonight's State of the Union was one of the most moving in recent memory. For almost two years, our nation has struggled with and debated the concepts of a just war, nation building, and the appropriate exit strategy from Iraq. Tonight, we witnessed the focal point of what we all have been debating. I quote two passages from the State of the Union:
"One of Iraq's leading democracy and human rights advocates is Safia Taleb al-Suhail. She says of her country, "We were occupied for 35 years by Saddam Hussein. That was the real occupation. Thank you to the American people who paid the cost, but most of all, to the soldiers." Eleven years ago, Safia's father was assassinated by Saddam's intelligence service. Three days ago in Baghdad, Safia was finally able to vote for the leaders of her country -- and we are
honored that she is with us tonight. "
"And we have said farewell to some very good men and women, who died for our freedom, and whose memory this nation will honor forever. One name we honor is Marine Corps Sergeant Byron Norwood of Pflugerville, Texas, who was killed during the assault on Fallujah. His mom, Janet, sent me a letter and told me how much Byron loved being a Marine, and how proud he was to be on the front line against terror. She wrote, "When Byron was home the last time, I said that I wanted to protect him like I had since he was born. He just hugged me and said, 'You've done your job, Mom. Now it is my turn to protect you.'" Ladies and gentlemen, with grateful hearts, we honor freedom's defenders, and our military families, represented here this evening by Sergeant Norwood's mom and dad, Janet and Bill Norwood. "
Janet Norwood, right, of Pfugerville, Texas whose son was killed in Iraq last year, is thanked by Safia Taleb al-Suhail, leader of the Iraqi Women's Political Council, during the State of the Union address Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2005, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
This moving moment between distant cultures, illustrates so completely, the justification and real meaning of what this war is about. The cost of Freedom is born of bittersweet pain. Thank you Norwood Family.
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
Instinctively we know that we cannot box God up in any conceptual framework of our own devising, and that if we think we have succeeded in doing so, then what we have in our box is not God. Our little minds cannot conceive him, let alone contain him. '"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways" declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts"' (Is. 55:8-9).
Even the fleeting glimpses we catch of him as he passes by in moments of ecstasy or pain, of beauty or wonder, of goodness or love, leave us tantalized by the fullness of the Reality beyond. Yet these glimpses are themselves a form of 'mediation'. For they are declarations of God through the glories of heaven and earth, through the intricate mechanisms of nature, through the complexities of the human situation in its combination of nobility and degradation, and through the whole range of our responses to it. These 'mediations' leave us dissatisfied, however. They point to heights we cannot scale, to depths we cannot
fathom. We need a mediation that is at once more concrete, more personal, more genuinely human. In a word, we need Jesus Christ. For however rich the reality we have ever seen or felt or thought or suspected, apart from Jesus Christ, God remains the Infinitely Beyond. Only once has this Beyond come personally into our midst, when the Eternal Word of God actually became a human being and lived among us. Only then did human eyes behold true 'glory' in human form, the radiance of ultimate personal reality, 'the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father' (Jn. 1:14).