Monday, September 24, 2012

No More Virgin Births

           I use to think that all babies came into this world the same way Jesus did. God put 
the baby inside the mother's stomach (womb), the baby grew inside the woman and finally 
entered into the world. I will never forget my fellow freshman in the college dorm telling me 
that was not how babies were made.
            I'm kidding! That's a joke.
            Actually, I learned at age 7 that my view of bringing babies into this world was incorrect–thanks to some older boys that I hung around with.
            It took a while to fully appreciate this, but in time I realized that while God was involved in the birth of every baby, so were human beings–the father and mother. Through the years I have continued to marvel that God would work through people to bring babies into this world. That is how he has chosen to empower the fulfillment of his commandment for the human race to be fruitful and multiply (see Gen. 1-2.)
            God has another commandment for people in his Kingdom. It is to be spiritually fruitful and multiply.
            As with physical births, God chooses to deliver spiritual babies in a process that involves people. God chooses to bring spiritual babies into his Kingdom through a process using people. Just like a physical birth requires a human father and mother (except for Jesus), so too a spiritual birth requires human participation in the process.
            Many Christians act as if they belief God alone will bring people into His Kingdom. He could, of course, but he chooses not too. There was only one virgin birth—and it is over and done with.
              All Christians I have known, who married and desired children, completely understood that they must participate in the process. Many Christians I have known who desire to see spiritual children fail to realize that they too must participate in the process.
            Jesus calls for us to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This can be a burden, or it can be an enjoyable process. We love, we serve, and we teach people about Jesus. What a blessing to participate in God’s mission of helping people to be born… again.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hold That Tray!

            John Brodie was pro football’s first player to sign a million dollar contract. His career spanned from the late fifties to the early seventies. During his prime, he was without doubt one of the great quarterbacks in the game.
            In the mid-sixties, Brodie and the old American Football League’s franchise, the Houston Oilers, arranged a deal which called for him to switch leagues and join the Oilers. It was this transaction that helped to cause the merger between the National Football League and the AFL.
            Because of his success, a reporter decided to goad Brodie a little during a particular press conference. The reporter asked Brodie why it was that a million dollar quarterback had to hold the football on field goals and extra-points. "Well," Brodie replied, "If I didn't, it would fall over."
            I always like that story, and it gave me encouragement yesterday morning when I was asked to serve the trays for our communion service. As silly as it sounds, serving “on the table” made me feel apprehensive. It had been almost thirty years since I had done that. I knew there were always risks involved in serving communion.
            When I was a kid, one of our members accidentally dropped the trays of grape juice he was holding, shattering the glass cups. The preacher tried to pass off the situation lightly with some humor, but the guy was so embarrassed, he never came back.
            I did not want to make a mistake in front of a lot of people, but risks notwithstanding, I decided to accept the challenge. After all, if nobody were to "hold the ball", “it would fall over.” 
            I knew the guys who were given the responsibility to locate people to help during the assembly. They always had a hard time finding folks to serve.
            Moreover, and I hope this does not sound presumptuous, but I thought it would be good for my kids to see me serve the church in another way besides being the preacher. So far my transition out of the pulpit has gone well, and I have been very pleased that my kids are identifying me in a role unique to them—“regular” member. You see, for as long as my kids have known me, I have been the preacher of their church.
            Our fellowship, comparatively speaking, is pretty good about not holding preachers on too high a pedestal, but even in our fellowship, there is something distinctive about the position of pulpit minister. I DO want my kids to nail down the fact that I'm a disciple first—not a preacher.
            That can be hard, particularly when their friends do not view things that way. At Shiloh, we are blessed with a large campus and many wonderful facilities, which people of the community use literally everyday. Last July, during our Vacation Bible School, one my son's elementary school friends (who does not attend a church) visited.
            One night, he emphatically stated to the children of his VBS class, “Timothy's dad owns all of this!” Of course, we know Jesus owns it; we're just marking time attempting to become more like him.
            Having stated that my kids (and their friends!) need to see me as a disciple first, I know I do as well. As I wrote a few weeks ago in this blog, I have loved preaching so much. Earlier this year I became concerned preaching may have become an idol for me. I know how crucial it is that I view myself as a disciple first, and not a preacher.
            As silly as it sounds, serving the communion trays-with all of its risks-was another opportunity to allow myself to be tested. I knew it was a good probe into my heart.
            Subsequently, I passed out the trays. Thankfully, I do not think I disrupted the service. I did not pass the trays to the wrong person. I did not drop grape juice.
            I think I passed the physical test of serving during communion.
            I hope I also passed the spiritual test of my heart.


Monday, September 3, 2012

The Man on the Moon

            I’m sorry Neil Armstrong will not live to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his footsteps on the moon. He missed it by seven years.
            Neil Armstrong, for me, is not simply a photo in the history books or in the newspapers. He is a living being inside my mind. I can ever yet see him as a 39-year-old in 1969 flying to and from the moon. The memory is indistinguishable from my ninth birthday party of that year. That’s because in a way, I participated in both.
            My dad bought our first color TV a few days before the launch of Apollo 11 in July, 1969. It was summer, so I watched almost every moment of the CBS telecast of the mission.
            Perhaps, because I was a child, what seemed so incomprehensible to adults seemed so comprehensible to me. A chorale group from an orphans’ home was singing at our church that weekend; at an afternoon reception, everyone stopped and watched as a portable TV was brought out and NBC announced that the EAGLE had landed.
            Later that night, my parents, our houseguests, and I watched in wonder and fascination as Neil Armstrong descended from the ladder of the lunar module… and then he was on the moon.
            At some point in the two-hour plus spacewalk of Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, I fell asleep. I awoke during the historic phone call from President Richard Nixon to the astronauts.
            Observing this conversation in my post-nap haze seemed dreamlike. Perhaps that is the best word to describe the Apollo 11 mission—dreamlike. For centuries humans aspired to travel to the moon, but that night four decades ago, the dream was fulfilled. And I was there.
            I consider it a privilege to experience my childhood during the sixties. I owe Neil Armstrong a debt for taking me along with him on his incredible voyage.
            In the ensuing years after his moonwalk, critics would chastise Armstrong for not viewing his space event more romantically. He never claimed to be a poet; he was simply an engineer. Ironically, in the minds of succeeding generations, the words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" form one of the most poetic sentences ever uttered.
            Twice Armstrong faced close calls in space. Once, nearly spinning to his death in Gemini 8, and the second time, coming without seconds of running out of fuel landing the lunar module on the moon. In both cases, his cool, analytical, engineer’s brain manufactured solutions to his life-threatening problems. Nevertheless, Armstrong was no unfeeling automaton.
            Several years ago, I read James Hansen’s excellent biography of Neil Armstrong, FIRST MAN. In his book, Hansen peels away the layers of the complex man to reveal not only a gifted, rational thinker, but also a husband and father with feelings and emotions. Here is how I put it in a post I wrote in 2009:  

         One of the interesting aspects of Armstrong's life that this book [FIRST MAN] reveals is the tender heart that he had for his daughter, Karen. She died as a child of a brain tumor [in the early 1960s]. The event shattered Armstrong emotionally, and he never fully recovered.
            [After Karen’s death and] after the successful Apollo 11 spaceflight, the mission's astronauts toured the world. While in London, England, crowds mobbed the astronauts.
            At a barrier, which separated the astronauts from the people, a little girl found herself pressed against the obstruction. Frightened, she began to cry.
            Armstrong picked up the girl, hugged her, soothed her emotions with kind words, and kissed her. An enterprising photographer snapped the picture and newspapers around the world ran it.
            The press noted that this intimacy was out of character for Armstrong and were puzzled by this display. Hansen writes that it was no coincidence. The girl was the age of Armstrong's daughter when Karen had passed away.
            Rest in peace, Neil Armstrong.

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