Friday, September 24, 2010

Big Daddy

Luke 4:32 - They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority.

This past week, Danny had a business trip to Savannah and I was fortunate to be able to accompany him. As I had never visited this historic town before, I was especially elated to be going there and eager to see and know more about Georgia's birthplace. Several of my friends had assured me that the trolley tours were not to be missed, so I booked one for the morning Danny was presenting at the convention (he's not the history buff that I am) and hoped the experience would give me the overview of Savanna's past and present I desired.

Full of Starbucks and anticipation, I waited anxiously at City Market for the first trolley of the day. The gaudily-painted orange and green vehicle pulled up promptly at 9:00 and I boarded exuberantly, taking an empty seat at the front to be sure I could catch every word the tour guide imparted. While she was friendly and personable, I found, to my chagrin, I had to strain above the growl and roar of the engine to understand what she was saying. This was certainly not the info-venture I had envisioned, but I was determined to make the best of it and willed myself to focus even harder on her words. Imagine my relief when she pulled into the parking lot of the Savannah History Museum and indicated that we were to board another trolley for the bulk of our tour. I disembarked readily and scurried toward the new trolley with renewed hope. It was crammed with folks, but a pleasant woman offered me a seat next to her which I gratefully took and, even more gratefully, delighted in the clear, resonant voice of our tour guide.

"I'm Big Daddy," boomed his introduction, "and I'm going to show you the sights of Savannah."

And, did he ever! Big Daddy not only knew the history of Savannah like the back of his hand, but also delivered the facts and folklore with indefatigable humor.

"Eli Whitney's original cotton gin is displayed right here in the Savannah History Museum. Anyone know what Eli's last words were? 'Keep your cotton-pickin' hands off my gin!'"

"And here we have the Washington cannons, affectionately known as George and Martha. Any guesses as to which one has the loudest report?"

"We're coming up on the I.R.S. building. Please note the tall, modern sculpture standing in front of it. We call it 'the shaft'."

I could go on, but you get the picture. We laughed a lot and we learned a lot. By the time the wondrous tour concluded, there was no doubt in my mind that Big Daddy was THE authority on Savannah history and I was awed by how much he had taught me in so short a time.

The crowds were amazed by Jesus because he spoke with such authority. They were baffled as to its source, but we, as post-resurrection Christians, know the answer. Jesus' authority came from his Father in Heaven, his Abba, the one true and eternal "Big Daddy". Who's your "Big Daddy"?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

On Being Generous

2 Corinthians 9:11 - You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

Generosity has been a Christian virtue from the earliest days of the church. Even in today's difficult economic times, those who are down-and-out can depend on church-based food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens, job ministries, and even emergency monetary assistance. Recently, when one of the church-supported food banks in my community ran low on supplies, word was spread to all denominations in our area. Needless to say, the outpouring of food and financial donations was immediate and voluminous, and the food bank was up and running again in no time. Christians can be counted upon, time and again, to be cheerful, thankful givers.

That being said, you can imagine my shock and dismay when, following a friend's comment thread on Facebook, I read that around 100 church members descended on a restaurant for their Sunday repast and either tipped poorly or left nothing at all. Yes, I could conclude that with this large a crowd, service was probably slower than usual and, perhaps, some orders were confused. Even if this group had made a reservation, which, as I inferred from the waitress' comment, they had not, that is an unwieldy number for a restaurant to accommodate under any circumstance. If you have ever worked as a waiter or waitress, I don't need to tell you how much prep work must be done before the restaurant opens each day and after it closes each night and that you only earn half of minimum wage for all your hard labor; you depend on tips for your livelihood. It's difficult for me to believe that not one person in that church group understood this fact. What is far worse and immensely tragic is that these Christians came to have their hunger satisfied and their thirst slaked by servers, more likely than not, in need of the bread of life and the living water. Instead, they were left with a bitter taste in their mouths and a meager pittance toward paying their bills.

In a hurting and broken world in which sentiment against Christianity sadly grows, how do we communicate the love, grace, mercy, and redemption we find in our Lord Jesus Christ? By our actions and attitude, every day and in every way. Some Christians, like those mentioned above, dress in their Sunday best for church, but are content to be rag-tag the other six days of the week. How would these behaviors ever make others long for a personal relationship with God? Let us don our Sunday best every day of the week, taking the joys and blessings of the worship experience out into the world, letting our light shine upon all whom we encounter. Our actions and our attitudes should ever be a witness to the great gift we have in Christ Jesus. Indeed, by laying down His life for our sins, He has shown us the ultimate in generosity.

Are you willing, are you ready to be generous with His love?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Loving Our Enemies

Matthew 5:43-45 You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy'. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be the sons of your Father in Heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Where were you on September 11, 2001? If you are like me, you probably not only recall where you were, but also what you were doing, thinking, and feeling during those horrific moments nine years ago. The heinous acts of Islamic terrorists on that fateful day traumatized a nation in a manner not known before or since. It is an onerous memory that has daily lived itself out in the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and reminds us that we do, indeed, have enemies who hate America with its Western values. And, lest you think it is only and extreme minority of Muslims who share this feeling, hark back to the cheering and celebrations in the Middle East as the people clustered around communal television sets to watch the Twin Towers collapse. That is one memory I wish I could erase.

With the recent controversy surrounding the proposed mosque at Ground Zero, the wounds inflicted on 9/11 have been opened anew. Proponents of the mosque argue that American opposition is evidence of their hatred and intolerance toward Islam; history reveals a different story. In the Muslim world, it has long been a tradition to construct a mosque where there was a great victory in war. To construct one at Ground Zero would translate to the entire Muslim world that the conquering of the United States has begun and inroads to bring down this despised country have been granted. Is this the message that we in America want to send to the world? "No!" according to the thousands of peaceful protesters who gathered recently in New York City to voice their concerns and convictions. For every single person in attendance, there are, more than likely, 100,000 Americans who agree with each one. Speaking for myself, I believe that Ground Zero is hallowed and sacred as it is the resting place for the almost 3,000 innocent men, women, and children whose lives were barbarically ended that day. The only appropriate structure to erect there is a memorial monument.

As if the Ground Zero mosque issue isn't enough to cause "bad blood" and misunderstanding, the Dove Worldwide Outreach Ministries in Gainesville, Florida, has announced their intentions to burn the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11. It is mind-boggling to think that this small congregation totaling 50 members has caused such an upheaval in Afghanistan that Muslims are burning effigies of the pastor and calling for the death of President Obama; it has even prompted a plea from General Petraus not to follow through with this as the ensuing anger could endanger the lives of American soldiers. The last I heard as I was writing this blog, the church has yet to change its mind. Not a comforting thought.

Jesus commands us to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you", not an easy task by any means. Our natural instinct as human beings is to dislike or retaliate against those who mean us harm and we've all known individuals for whom grudges are a way of life. So, how are we, as Christians, to accomplish this? I believe that before we can love or pray for an enemy, we must first pray to see as God sees. To Him, every individual is uniquely created in His image and is worthy to be loved by that very fact alone. If we can make that spiritual stretch, to acknowledge the individuals, though they are now enslaved by false doctrines, as God's children, we move in the right direction.

To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, prayer doesn't change God, it changes us. Jesus knew that by loving and praying for our enemies, they could no longer hold sway over our lives; we would be free to live our lives to the fullest and to enjoy the abundant life He promised us. Love always trumps the darkness. Let us, then, choose to love mightily that we might be the sons and daughters of our Father in Heaven.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

How Might I Be of Service?

Matthew 20:27-28 And whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

I am a huge fan of Clark Howard, the syndicated radio and television host who promotes saving money and avoiding rip-offs in these stressed economic times. Although I appreciate his sound and prudent advice, I appreciate even more the way in which he interacts with his callers. Often, when he greets one by name, he adds, "How might I be of service to you today?" This simple phrase at once invites and disarms the callers to divulge their needs and feel reassured that they will be listened to and appreciated for who they are aside from the problems they are experiencing. Clark treats each and every listener with unwavering respect and concern for their personal issues, offering answers or directions as the need arises, and is never judgmental of the person's character or former choices. For me, Clark Howard embodies the essence of perfect service as our Lord commanded of us, and accomplishes this on a daily basis.

What is keeping us from doing the same? Are we loving and serving at home, in the workplace, in our house of worship? Are we listening to and helping, or are we judging the hopeless, the downtrodden, and those in need? Are we being servants, or are we demanding that others serve us?

In this same train of thought, we can regard those elected officials that we send to both state and federal government posts when we make crucial voting decisions in November. Are we electing servants, representatives who will voice our concerns and convictions or are we electing politicians who are only interested in personal gain? Our Founding Fathers considered election as an honor, and opportunity to serve their constituents and despised strength in a central government. How far have we fallen from that tree of liberty? Not so far that we can't build a ladder to the tree-house and demand that our leaders be servants, first and foremost. We must do so for the sake of our land, our liberties, and the future of our children and grandchildren.

Our Lord, in all humility, washed the feet of his disciples. Practice humility in your daily walk and demonstrate this to others. Elect only those who would rather bathe your feet, weary from working, instead of taking your money to wash the feet of others who receive not with grateful hearts but with an attitude of entitlement.

Jesus asks every day: "How might I be of service to you?"

You answer: "Here I am, Lord, I am at yours."

Sing a New Song

  Danny and I in his new music studio Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. ~Psalm 96:1 A new song shall I sing unto...