Monday, July 30, 2012
For some, it was date night. For some, it was friends out for the evening. For at least one, it was the culmination of the evil scheming of a demented mind. For all, it was a tragic and violent reminder that this world is a scary place where life can change, or end, in an instant.
When I saw the TV news reports Friday morning concerning the shooting at the midnight showing of The Dark Night Rises, my mind cycled through memories of news reports from Columbine (April 20, 1999) and Wedgwood Baptist Church (September 15, 1999) and Fort Hood (November 5, 2009).
I also knew that my son had been at a midnight showing in Amarillo the previous evening.
Many conversations will take place in the weeks and months ahead. They may be political, cynical, tense, philosophical, or spiritual. None will provide answers to the satisfaction of everyone and all will be disappointing to someone. Two questions will form in the minds of both believers and skeptics. “How could this happen?” “Where was God?”
Believers may wonder if the God they believe in would protect them from such tragedy. Skeptics may ask the question to reinforce their skepticism. After all, senseless violence makes more sense in a world where there is no loving, all-knowing, all-powerful God.
I read a letter to the editor recently that made precisely that point. To briefly summarize, the writer asserted that “Jesus loves the little children” seems empty in a world where thousands of children suffer and die every day.
Due to lack of both space and inclination, this is not a response to someone else’s point of view. Let me be clear about my perspective. I believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing, loving God who involves Himself personally in the affairs of humanity. My life has been touched by both tragedy and blessing that I cannot begin to understand. I choose to respond in faith and loving submission to His love and grace extended to me.
My question is this: “Why do we only ask where God is when tragedy strikes?” I think part of our problem is our assumption that we deserve good things. So, the fact that tragedy strikes or that children suffer from illness or malnutrition is evidence that God is unaware, unconcerned, or nonexistent. No one asks, “Why did millions of children go to sleep well-fed and healthy tonight?” “Why did hundreds of thousands of people attend and enjoy a midnight movie on Thursday and make it home safely?” God gets the blame, but not the credit.
I remember the first TV interview with my friend Al Meredith, pastor of Wedgwood Baptist Church, when he was asked, “Where was God?” He said, “God was in the same place He was when He watched His own dear Son die on the cross for our sins.”
If you wonder if your life matters to God, the answer is not found in a movie theater. It is found on a cross.
Monday, July 16, 2012
Mom used to call us to supper with those words. That didn’t mean we were having soup, it just meant that it was time to eat.
A friend recently told me about attending a large Christian gathering of men with two of his friends. One was ultra-conservative and restrained in his outward expressions of worship. The other was from a different heritage (and personality type) and was much more visibly demonstrative.
Because they were friends, they had a good-natured banter back and forth about their differences. The more expressive friend encouraged the other to loosen up and be more “free” in his demonstration of his devotion to God. His friend answered, “Just because I’m not slurping loud doesn’t mean my soup doesn’t taste good.”
Imagine sitting in a restaurant and hearing from your dining companions: “Slurp louder! Don’t you like the soup?” Or, “The way you eat soup is to slowly take a small portion and hold it in your mouth for 10 seconds while you savor all the different ingredients. Don’t disrespect the soup by slurping!”
For crying out loud … it’s soup! The purpose of soup is to eat it and enjoy it. With all due respect to Miss Manners, the proper way to eat soup is the way you enjoy eating soup.
And the proper way to worship is to set your mind’s attention and your heart’s affection on the One who made you and who loves you and to acknowledge His unsurpassed worth (our English word “worship” comes from an old English word “worth-ship”). What matters is not what it looks like on the outside, but the focus of your mind and heart.
I am reminded of the truth of 1 Samuel 16:7, “The Lord doesn't see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."
We can get so hung up on what things look like on the outside that we miss the deepest realities. The truth of the matter is that I can’t see what is going on in someone’s heart. And the way I know whether or not a person has truly connected with God in worship is not by observing their outward expressions of worship during the gathering, but by how their devotion to Christ is lived out for the rest of the week.
Our lives matter so much to God that He wants us to experience the reality of His presence as much in the check-out line at Wal-mart on Tuesday as in the pew on Sunday. And just like a good meal provides us with nutrition for living physically, our times of worship (both public and private) provide us with nutrition for living spiritually.
Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!” It’s not HOW you eat, but WHAT you eat that determines your health.
So slurp … or savor. Just don’t miss the meal.
Friday, July 13, 2012
I am composing this week's Life Matters from a hotel room just outside of Houston. Mrs. Sweetie and I are enjoying a week of vacation celebrating our 28th wedding anniversary. This morning, I was the guest preacher at a church in this area where one of my long-time friends is pastor. Just to prove that I am still on vacation, I preached in jeans and a Hawaiian shirt. I also had on long pants and socks for the first time since July 3, so it was a special occasion.
My friend is the founding pastor of this church that they started with 12 couples 9 years ago. They have a wonderful church family of several hundred, most of whom had no prior experience in church. As a result, these folks don't have a lot of pretense.
Their church motto is, "Don't go to church. Be the church." I love it. As a professional observer and encourager of church life (that does not speak of expertise, but of "profession"), I have noticed that a common struggle of churches is their identity in the community. One of the questions I want to encourage churches to ask is, "When our community sees or hears the name of our church, what does that mean to them?" Is it the little white church on the corner? Or the red brick church on the hill? Maybe it's the hundred year old building down the gravel road or the modern complex in the suburbs.
But what would it be like if we weren't identified by the place we gather, but by the way the gathering affects the way we live once we are dispersed? What we were known as those who are feeding the hungry, loving the outcasts, and making our whole community a better place to live just because we live here. What would it be like if people saw our public gatherings as safe places where hurting and helpless people are met with the compassion of Jesus?
You don't have to go to Houston to find churches like that. They are in our neighborhoods. Some of them have really nice meeting places and some of them don't, but that is not what matters most. Some of them have figured out that "church" is an identity, not a location. And that makes our communities better.
A few years ago, I was struck by Proverbs 11:11. "Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed." The primary focus is on blessing with words, but when those words are accompanied by action (being the church), the blessing is multiplied. And when the church makes an intentional choice to bless the community, those who have been wounded, and even broken, by life begin to see that healing and wholeness are possible as they meet with people who act like the Savior they worship.
I can't wait to gather with the church next Sunday.