November 16, 2018

Rear View

Like many of your vehicles, I'm sure, my newly procured (orange!) Jeep has one of those backup cameras that allows you to see immediately behind you when you are in reverse.  Hindsight, literally.

Hindsight is an important spiritual vantage point.  To look back over one's experience, to make note and to take stock, to pay attention to matters that were difficult to see (much less understand) in the moment of living: these are the disciplines and privileges of rearward viewing.  I have a colleague who always reminds groups of pastors: It is not experience that teaches us; it is only by reflection on our experience that we learn.  The subtext of his wisdom is the truth that it is quite possible — for many, quite normal — to live life without ever reflecting on our purpose, our meaning, our reason for being alive.

Some would say, often quite proudly: "Don't ever look back!  Keep moving forward."  There is some truth to that mantra.  We can easily become ensnarled in our regrets, trapped by the power of unchangeable events, or held captive by our nostalgia.  We ought not live in the past, true, but neither can the past be avoided if we are to welcome a better future.  Looking back with open and honest eyes equips up to move forward.   The great Presbyterian missionary Harold Kurtz used to say, "Don't be afraid to make mistakes in living your life for Jesus.  Just make new ones."

For followers of Jesus, hindsight is the fertile soil of testimony.  When we look back and reflect, paying attention to our lives, we are put in a position to imagine more clearly what the living God has been up to in our lives and in the life of the world.  A wise person once said to me, "Providence is mostly a doctrine of hindsight."  We are usually better able to discern what God is up to when we pay attention to the backup camera of our lives.  Perhaps the best predictor of God's better future for us are the currents of blessing, healing, and illumination in our past.  It is why we look back so often to Jesus' morning resurrection.  The early church seems to be saying on most of the pages of our New Testaments: "God pulled off this amazing feat on that original Sunday morning.  So pay attention.  God is likely getting ready to do the same in your life."

What is your hindsight testimony these days?  Where have seen God at work in your life?  What story are you telling about where Providence has taken you thus far?  Are you afriad to turn on the backup camera in your life?  Or can you imagine where God might be leading you next, based on where God has led you in the past?

November 8, 2018

Vital Veterans

Four years ago this month, during a two week ecclesiastical visit in Africa, I departed and locked my hotel room one evening, only to discover that my traveling companion's room next door was being secretly searched by what I could only assume was an official from the country's hardline Islamic national government.

We two pastors were there visiting Presbyterian schools that for years had been supported by congregations in our presbytery.  Our visit was largely unscathed, and the room tossing was relatively innocuous in the scheme of pressures, but our visit proved to be another reminder to us of what remarkable religious liberties we followers of Jesus in America often take for granted.  "Listen," I once said to a Presbyterian congregation at the start of our worship. "Hear that?" Silence.  "No one is coming to stop us."  Many of the planet's Christians cannot take the sound of that silence as a given.

Whatever the many shortcomings of our American-style democracy, a Christ-follower from the United States only needs a brief taste of another, more repressive political context in order to appreciate what it means to come and go in this gospel unhindered and unsuppressed.  And to the extent those religious liberties have been preserved and protected by those who have served in our nation's military forces over the years, I believe as Chrsitian disciples we owe American veterans our deep gratitude.   Freedom to be free in Christ, and freely to share his light and love — it is not free.

Given that this year Veterans Day officially falls on a Sunday, as an act of Christian discipleship — if not also as an act of American citizenship — let us give thanks to God in prayer for those who have served to keep religious freedoms free.   At the top of my list is my own father, who served in the Army during the Korean conflict; along with him, countless other veterans I have known and loved in the congregations I have served.  Heartfelt thanks to those in our Northminster ranks who have served.

Who's on your hallowed list?  For what aspect of religious liberty are you most grateful?  What will you do for the Good News this week with the freedom we enjoy?

November 2, 2018

Dedicated Saints

In conversations leading up to Flippy Denton's recent funeral, someone was sharing with me some sweet and funny stories from Flippy's life.  When the gentle laughter trailed off, and there was a holy moment, this person looked at me with tender eyes and said, "Flippy was a fine Christian woman."  I could not imagine a better period that could placed at the end of a life's sentence.  Thus followed more stories; these, tales of kindness, hospitality, and forgiveness — marks of a dedicated disciple of a dedicated Savior.

This Sunday we do double duty in worship.

First, we celebrate our Protestant version of All Saints Day.  It is our time together to remember those who in the last year have left our earthy fellowship and now wait in the safe care of the risen Jesus until the resurrection; the "church triumphant," the ancient Christians called them.  It is a day to give thanks for the witness of Flippy, Tom Goodwin, and all those many others who, despite their own shortcomings, have shown us what faithfulness looks like.

Second, it is Dedication Sunday: the culmination of three weeks of Stewardship emphasis.  We will gather our Time and Talent cards, together with our financial pledges, and we will dedicate ourselves afresh to the ministry of Jesus in and around us.  We've deliberately kept this season simple this year, looking ahead as we are to a fresh new season of being church.

In truth, the two duties go naturally together.  How do we best learn the art and grace of the stewardship of God's gifts in our lives?   Mostly by watching others do it well.  From whom have you learned the shape of giving?  Who has taught you the generous way of Jesus Christ?  For that matter, who is watching you, learning the moves of discipleship from the gait of your walk?

Let us gather this Sunday, to remember God's saints and to dedicate ourselves to the same.