Sunday, June 21, 2015

Ministry in the Air

I have experienced it twice in recent days.  It brought back a memory of long years ago of a vacation trip which took us to Norfolk, Va.  Coming out of a store in the market area of the city, we immediately heard the sounds of a bagpipe playing "Amazing Grace."  It was one of those totally unexpected moments which provided a powerful midday blessing.  Curiosity led me to discover that it was a guy who often took his lunch hour to play from an upper level of a parking garage.  It was wonderful and certainly memorable the way his gift of music floated out over that part of the city causing people to look upward in more ways than one.
More recently it was a violin and a piano.  Walking through a busy hospital waiting room which emptied sufferers into clinics, treatment areas, and hospital rooms, I became aware of someone playing a violin.  It was a young Asian American girl sitting there in that busy room providing a moment for people to pause and breathe and be renewed.  It always amazes me that music has the ability to touch the heart in ways that words only struggle to do.  And, then, in another place very much like the first, there was a middle aged man playing the piano.  As the music drifted across the lobby of that hospital, I found myself being made aware of the way God breaks in upon us in surprising and unexpected ways.  Even though it may seem at times that He must surely be elsewhere, all of a sudden there is that reminder of His presence.  And, of course, when I looked his way and saw the cross and flame emblem, a symbol of the spiritual community which has nurtured me all my life, I was even more blessed and reminded that where ever I go, God is there before me.
I have always told church musicians that they bring more blessing than they would ever realize.  What is offered by them in the context of worship is not just filler for the preacher, but a means of ministry that God uses in amazing ways.  As a preacher I know that some will sleep through even my best efforts and that others will be blessed by what seems to me to be me preaching at my worst.  But, always it is about what God is doing.  It is no different with those who provide this musical ministry in the air.  Some may walk by and never hear, but, ah, there are those who hear not just with their ears, but with their hearts. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Unexplainable and Mysterious

Surely, even the most devout have lived through seasons where prayer was questioned almost as much as it was practiced.  While I do not put myself in the category of the "most devout," I have been one who has practiced this spiritual discipline for a life time.  And, honesty requires that I confess to my share of questions which some may say speak of doubt or little faith, but I rather think they speak of a heart that searches for more of God in my life.
As a younger man I prayed for those who asked, but seldom did I ask for the prayers of others.  Then, I thought I could handle anything; now, I know the foolishness of those years.  It finally came to me that if the Apostle Paul would ask the people of the church to pray for him, it would be a good practice for me as well.  Still, there are questions.  How does the prayer of one person in one place touch the life of another in another place?  If a few praying is enough, why do I feel better with "the more?"  Is God going to bless less than He otherwise would do if people do not pray?  When do you stop praying prayers that seem unheard?  Is just praying, "thy will be done" all that is really necessary?
Even though I have not figured it all out, I still pray.  I trust God and I trust the process of prayer.  I drive a car and I do not understand fully how it works.  I sit in an airplane and despite my high school physics teacher's persistent teaching, I still do not understand.  A lack of understanding does not keep me home.  Neither does it keep me off my knees and from believing that prayer speaks of a powerful relationship between each one of us and God that unleashed holy power in an unexplainable and mysterious way.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Looking and Seeing

As Barbara Brown Taylor explores her own personal darkness in her book, crawls down into the deep recesses of an underground cave, and then experiences the world of the blind, I began to realize how easy it is to look but not really see.  As she writes about the difference in her book, "Learning to Walk in the Dark," she describes how looking  at a wooden table is different than taking the time to see it.  To look is to see it as oak or pine and one that seats eight. But, to see is to close the eyes and experience its surface with fingers that reveal nicks, wax spots, texture, grain, and even spots once damaged and now repaired.  Taking time to see means paying attention in a way our hurried looking does not.  In the same manner, we look and say, "It's a tree!" without seeing the vine creeping up its trunk, or the holes of drilling woodpeckers, or the diseased leaves, or the scurrying bugs hurrying from one place to another. We look, but do not always see.  We are not really paying attention to what are our eyes behold.

Surely, the Kingdom of God belong to those who are not only looking for it, but who have eyes to see.  Jesus spoke of the Kingdom as something near, something at hand, something within you, but we seldom see or experience it in such a way.  From time to time as we are in the presence of some act of grace filled with kindness, or when we hear of an extraordinary act of forgiveness, we might say, "Ah, there...there is the Kingdom of God,"  but mostly we just look and do not see.  If paying attention is a pre-requisite for seeing what is mostly missed, most of us must confess to a seeing that speaks more of acknowledgement than real recognition.

If the Kingdom of God is really in our midst as Jesus tells us it is, we can only wonder if we are really paying attention to the way it can be experienced, felt, smelled, and breathed.  The Kingdom of God is a spiritual dimension present midst the present physical dimension so easily seen.  God obviously uses the physical as a means of revealing the spiritual, but we must pay attention if we are to really see.  Otherwise, we will surely continue walking in the darkness known by men and women like us who have eyes and hearts to see, but move through life as those who are blind.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Where to Look

Some might say the world in which Jesus walked was a simpler, less complex, slower world.  Perhaps, such thoughts give us a self-made license to focus on the external instead of the internal as we think about how we live.  Certainly, His world of the first century was different in many respects, but the very same issues which confront us in our day were present in His even though given life in different ways.  As I walk in corridors of great suffering, places where people are dealing with the issue of life and death, coping with a body ravaged by disease, and struggling with all manner of uncertainty, I find myself wondering what Jesus would do if He walked into such a place.  Would He walk from one to the other, or would He stop at the front door and cry out like He cried out at the tomb of Lazarus saying, "All of you, be healed and made whole!"

When I go to the gospels for some sense of knowing, I am made aware that His normal mode of care was one person at a time.  There are some instances of group healings taking place, but they are few.  Mark tells us early on about village people gathering after the Sabbath for Jesus to touch their sick.  Luke tells us about ten lepers who showed up before Jesus.  Indeed, at that moment Jesus stood in the midst of a suffering community.  But, the Word does not ever even hint that Jesus sought out leper communities, or community sickbeds, or funerals where some tragedy took away life far too early.  One at a time seems to be more the approach to human suffering which speaks of Him.

Maybe the question is not the real question.  As I walk in the corridors of great suffering, I have to believe He is actually present.  Otherwise, the gospel I embrace makes no sense.  Perhaps, the real question to be asked is the one which causes me to open my eyes to the way I see His heart being expressed as one sufferer cares for another. And, of course, the sufferers are not just the ones with bodies ravaged by illness, but all of us who live with our own scars and pain.  Even me. In my search for Jesus in a place where suffering seems to prevail, is it not true that I must look first in my own heart? While He is not limited by being us, being in us is surely one of the ways He has chosen to make Himself and His compassion present in those difficult places in our world and His. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Place of Suffering

The world is full of suffering we seldom see.  Young women should be pushing strollers, not walkers. Babies should be crying for milk, not because of pain.  People should be dreaming dreams of days to come, not just hoping there will be a few more.  There are places around us filled wall-to-wall with those who know suffering, pain, and uncertainty as their daily companions.  The most of us hurry by behind the very thin illusion that such will never touch us.  And when we are forced to see and face the real reality in which we live, we want to close our eyes, look the other way, or at least escape back into our world of comfort and ease.
The roads Jesus walked was littered with the broken and suffering people. There were times when the whole and the well ones tried to keep the hurting ones away from Jesus, out of His presence and theirs.  But, He would have none of it. No place He was going was more pressing than the needs of the suffering ones.  He cared enough to care for the broken bodies and the sin-ridden souls.  Surely, the only reason He could live out in the real world where people struggle and suffer was because of His intimate spiritual connection with the Father.  He viewed the world not just through the eyes of mortal men, but through the eyes of God, the Father in heaven.
Today my world of ease and well being is being assaulted by the presence of the broken and suffering community which has existed all my life, but until now, has been pushed into those places where it seemed to be invisible.  There is some callous insensitivity for which I need repent and ask forgiveness.  And as I do, I will pray, too, for those souls around me whose hope is that Jesus will pass by to touch them with strength, hope, and healing for the journey ahead of them.