Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Not Quite Right

O.K. . . .so I need to check my references to scripture before posting statements about biblical content or attempting to quote passages that I haven't memorized.

I said in my last post that Paul repeatedly states in Philippians 2 that he wants to know Christ. That's not quite right. If you're interestred in reading what the apostle actually said, you'll need to go to Philippians 3. There are a couple of places there where Paul speaks of knowing Christ. In v. 3 he speaks of the "surpassing worth" of knowing Christ as compared with a life of rule keeping and points earned for good behavior. In v. 10 Paul says his aim is to "know him and the power of his resurrection."

I was off a little: one chapter and a few turns of phrase. Still, knowing Christ was a big deal for Paul. May it be likewise for us.

Friday, November 10, 2006

New on the iPod

Some of the best bible teaching in the country is available via podcasting. In addition to our own Dr. Vic Pentz here at Peachtree Presbyterian (link on right of this page) I'm enjoying a new podcast from Ken Myers and the folks who do the Mars Hill audio journal. It's called "Audition" and you can subscribe by going to the Mars Hill website. The Catalyst podcast is great and you'll find good stuff from Melo Park Presbyterian Church, Rob Bell at Mars Hill Church (not connected to Mars Hill audio journal in any way), and Mark Batterson at NCC in Washington, D.C.

On the way to the church this morning I heard part of a song that caught my attention for it's vocals and lyrics. I never actually listen to the country-western stations in Atlanta, so this was a random find while scanning for something else. The group is Sugarland and the song is "Want To" from their CD Enjoy the Ride.

I can't say exactly why I like this song beyond obvious things like the tune and the singer, etc. The song captures a moment between two people - a moment of decision, the precipice of something new between them. This is not an unspoken love from a distance, and it's not a declaration of commitment. It's the moment of what's next. There is mingling of clear desire and hesitant, tentative living.

"We could keep things just the same
Leave here the way we came, with nothing to lose
But I don't want to, if you don't want to."

I'll confess to being somewhat averse to risk, to the unknown. As far as I'm concerned you can never have enough clarity and certainty. This presents a problem when it comes to living by grace. I've got much to learn.

So the song expresses something that for me has significance in the life of faith. In this regard "Want To"is a modern day Song of Songs. It says something about devotion to and love for Jesus. There is always an inclination to settle in to something safe and familiar - even years into the Christian life. We want more, we know there's something more to be known of Jesus and the life he offers us - but there's this tentative stutter step we take before jumping in.

And the bottom line is I don't want to be that way. Paul says over and over in Philippians 2 "I want to know Christ." That's what I want too.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A Bad Week for Tires

We replaced three tires this week. Two on Wednesday, one on Friday.

On Wednesday I hit a hole in the road that should have been covered by a thick steel plate where construction was being done. I drive over those plates and past that construction site every day - but on Wednesday I was careless,not paying attention to the road. Honestly, I don't know what I was doing that allowed me to hit the open space just perfectly, the impact busting two tires and bending my front wheel.

On Friday my wife was in our Honda Accord and barely out of our driveway when she knew something was wrong. I came to the rescue, changed the tire and took it to a local auto repair shop where two small nails were found in the tread. The tire was plugged and I was back on the road within an hour.

Idolatry shows itself in some peculiar ways in my life. I've been teaching on the Ten commandments this Fall, and I'm forced to reflect on the "no other Gods" mandate given to the Israelites through Moses. I never consciously create or craft another God; they have a way of simply showing up in my life and in my mind, in my behavior and in my thinking. They are there without my knowing it . . . until something happens.

Like two flat tires and a bent wheel that costs me a good chunk of change and eats up hours in my schedule. Then I sense that something inside of me has been kneeling at the altar of control where I manage the details of my life. I regularly worship in the temple of modern machinery that allows me to come and go as I wish. I sense the anxiety that creeps into my heart when money is suddently re-directed and taken from me. Plenty of little idols, a menu of gods.

We're back on wheels - a must in Atlanta. We have to drive to live in this place. I'd gladly drive less than we do, given the horendous traffic. What I know I've also got to do less of is depend on driving and tires for my sense of well being. Time to repent of some little idolatries.

Missed Encounter

“To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools . . .” (Ecc. 5:1 ESV)

“You can do church and not do God.” I heard my wife say that recently and when I read the opening verses of Ecclesiastes 5 the same idea seeps through the text. Offering the sacrifice of fools is contrasted with drawing near to listen. The fool is the person who made it to the place of worship, but rushed through the familiar practices of the sacrificial act, saying the right words in the right place, but never truly encountering God. A genuine connection with the Holy was neither sought nor anticipated.

In contrast, the one who draws near to listen is after something more, something risky and potentially life changing. God is speaking and the one who listens is open to being addressed by those words; open to an encounter that could lead to God-knows-where.

After a late shift at the hospital during my chaplaincy days I was eager to get home. I had done my eight hours, the midnight chaplain had arrived to take over for the deep night shift, and I was getting to the parking lot as fast as I could go without actually running. I was carrying a small cooler in which I had packed my less than satisfying dinner. Down the hall in front of me a bath-robed patient was walking slowly. My strategy was to blow by on the opposite side of the hall. Without the slightest glance in his direction I passed him, only to hear him say, “You don’t have a liver I there do you?”

Moment of decision; I could laugh that off with a quip and barely lose a step, or I could listen. Transplant patients waiting on an organ know that organs usually arrive in something that looks like a cooler. That robed and unhurried person wasn’t really asking me a question. He was telling me something about himself and in doing so was inviting me to an encounter. By grace I managed to stop, to ask a few questions, to learn that Bill was from Florida waiting on a liver, waiting on a visit from his wife and daughter. It didn’t take too long. But the choice to listen opened up things that I would have missed entirely by refusing to be interrupted in my power walk to the parking lot.

God invites us to an encounter. Perhaps the single most significant factor in whether the encounter will take place is our capacity to listen. It’s so easy to come before God planning our next stop, obsessing over things left undone, our heads full of conversations we need to finish. But this is the way of fools. The invitation to encounter is the invitation to listen. God addresses you today; will your pace permit a response?

Prayer: God, my mind is so full of things that feel urgent to me and all of them seem to keep me from hearing you. As I make my way through this day, help me to hear your invitation, to vary my pace, to encounter you in the details of my life. Amen.