An old friend of mine is dying. I learned the news just this week and the truth is, I didn’t even know he was sick. Cancer. We were a part of the same church back in Atlanta. Then they moved, we moved a couple of times and we lost touch. Still, I was deeply saddened to hear that hospice has been called in.
Do you count the items the person in front of you has in their cart in the grocery store express lane? Do you honk your horn at people if they don’t smoke their tires the second the traffic light turns green? Do you ever pass slower drivers on the right and give them the evil eye as you go by? Do you line surf at Walmart? If you answered yes to these questions, you, my friend, have a wait problem.
In last week's post, I made the not-so-subtle suggestion that your church probably isn’t as friendly as you think. Even if you have all the expected contingencies – greeters, welcome stations, stand-and-greet sessions in the worship service, etc. – your church probably is not near as hospitable as you imagine. The reason is that when you walk in the door you know enough people and enough people know you that it feels like a family reunion.
I bet you think your church is friendly. It’s probably the friendliest church ever. You have greeters in the parking lot, in the lobby, even in the sanctuary. Every Sunday you see lots of handshakes, hugs and little groups of people huddled up in corners talking, laughing and loving on each other.
I had this routine when I was a kid. I’d come home from school, pull a sleeve of saltines from the box and lay a dozen crackers out on the counter. I’d take three of those processed cheese squares and quarter them, put a piece of cheese on each cracker and stack them up.
I’m preaching a series these days on the letters to the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. Last Sunday, we focused on the church in Ephesus – the church that had forsaken the love they had at first. In the past, I interpreted that to mean that they had fallen out of love with Jesus.
Do not fear getting older, for with age comes many advantages. Senior discounts on McDonald’s extremely hot and delicious coffee, for one. The freedom to filter less of what you say or write for another. And perspective. You can look back across the decades and see with greater clarity personal, historic and culturally important events and trends to which you were oblivious in the moment.
We’ve been silent for awhile. Thank you for your patience. The following will explain.
On December 24th, 1950, my wife’s father, Kermit Hammond, drove one of the last trucks onto a U.S. Navy ship at the port of Hungnam, North Korea. Moments later, army and navy explosive teams blew up abandoned allied weapons and supplies to keep them out of the hands of the advancing Chinese Communist forces.
When I was a child, I read the Bible like a child. The only thing that distinguished the heroes and heroines in scripture from the superheroes I saw in Marvel or DC Comics was their costumes. And the comic book heroes were way better dressed than how I imagined their biblical counterparts might have been.
Sometime during the middle of 1933, my grandfather boiled a pot of water to use for his morning shave. His youngest child, a daughter who had yet to take her first steps, reached up and pulled down on the handle. Her shrieks rang out and the months to come were hard and sad for her parents, her eight siblings and for the child herself.
Reading the Old Testament prophets is a little like having a conversation with an aging grandparent. You know that it’s important and to be treasured, but a lot of what they say seems to belong to a world that no longer exists. If they carried an aroma, the words they use would smell like they’d been hanging next to worn out winter coats in an old wardrobe or like they’d been lifted from the pages of a Zane Gray western that’s been sitting on a basement bookshelf low these many years.
Even without a read-through-the-Bible plan I spend a lot of time in the Old Testament. It’s kind of a big part of my day job. But like a lot of people, I tend to go back to the same passages – or at least the same kinds of passages – over and over.
Reflections on 1 & 2 Samuel
In the opening monologue of the Bible’s most cynical book, Solomon writes, What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new?” (Ecclesiastes.
1:9 – 10). It’s a withering take on the world but I don’t think I can argue with it. Even our trust in technology is as old as that time in Genesis when the people living on the plain in Shinar discovered a revolutionary new building material. They believed that it would empower them to change the world. They called it . . . brick.
Go ahead. Chuckle. In a hundred years our descendants will laugh at our Blockchain, Big Data and all the other techy buzzwords that make us feel like we just added the 119th element to the Periodic Table.
As I read 1st and 2nd Samuel over the past week, I saw something else that is not new; low character among people in high positions. The first person you are likely to think of is King David. He certainly had some character issues. But before David there was Saul, Israel’s first king. In the beginning, Saul seemed the ideal man for the job. He was so unassuming that they had to practically drag him to his own inauguration, (1 Samuel 10:20-24). Five chapters later, he built a monument to himself, (15:12). The rest of Israel’s history, as you will see when you read Kings and Chronicles, is heavily weighted with low character kings. So if nearly all of their kings were corrupt, or at least highly corruptible, why did Israel want a king in the first place?
Reflections on the Book of Judge
Here’s one benefit to reading through the Bible that I’d forgotten about – rediscovering the stories you’d forgotten about. Everybody knows the Samson story. Long hair, big muscles, high libido and low morals. Bruce Springsteen even mentioned him in a song once. But do you remember Micah? His story follows Samson’s in Judges 17 & 18.