Monday, October 26, 2009

When Worship Just Happens

Sunday evening, after the youth Bible study concluded, we were all walking out to our cars when a car I didn’t recognize pulled onto the lot, backing up to the salt store next door. I decided to just wait a couple of minutes, let the driver get his salt and then follow him off of the lot, locking the drive-through gate behind him.

Instead, as the driver got out of his car, he walked straight toward me, asking as he walked, “Are you the pastor here?” I barely finished telling him my name when he asked, “I was wondering if I could ask you to pray for me?” Just a couple of days before, he’d been involved in a terrible car crash. The wreck was the other driver’s fault and he had died instantly. The total stranger standing before me was still visibly shaken at having seen it all, so much so that he was willing to ask a total stranger to pray for him.

Earlier that day, I’d left church feeling a little frustrated. Among other things, like asking people to “bow their eyes and close their heads” during the invitation, instead of the other way around, I had also forgotten to take my Bible to worship. I intended to read the gospel as part of my message but instead found myself standing there asking if I could borrow someone else’s Bible. Worship had not gone like I planned.

Praying with a total stranger wasn’t exactly how I planned to end the day, either. Yet, praying with that man turned out to be one of the most meaningful experiences of worship I had all day.

There is worship that we plan and there is worship that just happens. I’m so glad things don’t always turn out the way I plan them.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tooth Fairy

If you have followed my blog, you may remember this blog from July, 2008. It continues to be one of my very favorite stories. I share it again because I can't help but think of all the people I know who need hope this morning.

In another time and place, right before the children were to go on stage to perform their spring musical, another little boy inadvertently elbowed nine-year-old Ben in the mouth. Pain aside, Ben was so very disappointed that the elbow also knocked one of his teeth loose. Ben screwed up his courage and sang the entire musical anyway.

When he got home, Ben stood over the bathroom sink to finish the work the elbow had only begun. As bad as it had been, it did open the possibility of leaving something for the tooth fairy. Then, just as he worked the tooth loose it fell into the sink and down the drain. Ben was horrified! His dad, Scott, who is not a Master plumber but who is a master father, decided to see if he could rescue the tooth by removing the drain trap under the sink. In the process, he got the trap loose but not without breaking another pipe that would require calling a real and very expensive plumber. Now, both father and son were so very disappointed.

The plumber came and, while fixing the broken pipe, discovered something else askew in the plumbing that required climbing under the house to repair. While there, he discovered something more ominous. It was a water leak that had been dripping for some time onto a gas line that runs beneath the house. The leak was just about to corrode a hole in the pipe that would have soon started causing a very dangerous gas leak.

The rest of the story involves older sister Corrie coming to Ben’s rescue. The missing tooth was never found. So, Corrie offered Ben a souvenir. It was a fossilized shark’s tooth she’d had for some time, a prized possession. She gave it to Ben telling him that he could put that under his pillow for the tooth fairy. Ben was aghast. “I can’t put that shark’s tooth under my pillow. The tooth fairy will think I’m a vampire!” His sister’s good intentions persisted and Ben decided to use the shark’s tooth anyway. Just to be sure, he wrote a personal letter to the tooth fairy explaining all that had happened and, what started out as one disappointment after another turned into something very wonderful.

Which is meaning of the tooth parable. Had Ben not been elbowed in the mouth and lost his tooth in the sink causing the plumber to climb under the house, well, none of us would like to think about what could have been had the gas leak not been discovered. The icing on the disappointment turned hope cake was that all of this created an opportunity for big sister to prove her compassion.

One of the greatest and recurring themes of God’s word, from cover to cover, is the promise that what can at first cause us to be so very disappointed can, if we will let the grace of God have its way, come to be seen as nothing more than a painful way hope finds its way into our lives. Sometimes life can be so very disappointing. Even so, we also have this eternal promise from God’s word. “We . . . boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us . . ..”

Hope never disappoints because disappointment is just hope’s doorway into our lives.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

God Knows

In a moment freeze-framed only in the electrical synapses of memory from nearly twenty years ago, I’m standing beside a professor’s desk at John Brown University in northwest Arkansas. The professor was giving his new pastor the nickel tour. Just above his desk, already overcrowded with work from the new semester, hung a plague that quietly whispered above the clutter, “Happiness is someplace to belong, something to do, someone to love.”

I’ve never been big on theology or politics that can be reduced to a bumper sticker or a plaque. That day, though, I was reminded yet again that something doesn’t have to be complicated or sophisticated to be true. Common sunsets and tiny green-breasted hummingbirds’ wings, the loving sparkle in my wife’s eyes and the joy in a friend’s voice, all announce the presence of incomprehensible and creative love, any day I’m willing to look, or listen.

Jack Dorsey never dreamed that his simple e-networking brainstorm with a very common name, Twitter, would, be worth $1 billion, only thirty-six months after his first tweet. All he’s done is find a way of marketing a product designed to address a need as old as creation. By the millions and counting, people are tweeting and facebooking proof that, no matter how big or complicated our world becomes, the greatest of human needs include belonging, doing and loving.

In the very first book of the Bible, just barely above the din of creation itself, God’s sentiment is poignantly stated in only nine little words. “It is not good that man should be alone.” Centuries later, Jesus’ response to the dilemma of human isolation was what is now commonly known as the “church.” Some have given up on the church because it’s too human, as though it could be anything else, as in “non-human.” Yet, despite all of its failings, that’s what keeps me coming back, the voice of Holy God speaking hope right into the middle of all of this humanity. Even my creator knows that I need someplace to belong, something to do and someone to love. That’s what keeps me coming back, specifically to the church. I know God knows that. I know God knows!