Archive for September, 2003

Mosquitoes

Posted: September 29, 2003 in Everything

It was like a plague! Friday night my garage was the Red Cross for mosquitoes in need of a fresh blood transfusion. My wife and I spent the evening hours Friday staining a newly bought dresser and changing table for our soon-to-arrive tax deduction. We thought it would be a good idea to save a few hundred dollars and stain the dresser ourselves. So after work Friday, we tucked our dog away in the backyard, opened the garage door for fresh air and popped open a new can of Rosewood stain.

I thought the staining would take about an hour–it took three. It was a three-hour buffet of blood, and every mosquito in Houston must have been on the guest list. We sanded, scrubbed and stained as these flying vampires feasted on our flesh.

A funny thing happened while Rochelle and I allowed ourselves to be dinner for bugs. I was reminded of my childhood along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. My brother and I were children of the outdoors, it was the only place we wanted to be. From sunrise to sunset we longed to be outside and my legs are permanently scarred from the thousands of mosquito bites I endured as a child. A minute taken to put on insect repellent was a minute too long for a third grader. I would bolt out the door without any preparation and my arms and legs paid the price.

The memory of each of those scars is special to me. They remind me of drippingly humid afternoon baseball practices that soaked through sunset into evening. Those marks remind me of playing touch football under the glowing street lamps of El Camino Drive. The world, at least my slice of it, was a safer place then. The dark of night posed no greater threat than the noon-day sun. That’s why my legs bear their scars. We would play baseball, ride dirt bikes, and throw footballs under the dawning moon of the Mississippi summer.

Childhood has to be the best part of life! For His own divine reasons, God calls us into His banquet table and let’s us eat dessert first.

I suppose the mosquitoes of Friday night swarmed at a good time for me. I was reminded of the wonderment of my childhood as Rochelle and I prepare for childhood again. Hopefully, our hearts can regain the daring playfulness and moments of miracles that are so often lost in adulthood. More importantly, we hope that our child can experience a childhood of beauty and magic.

The early years of my life are among my fondest memories. I was blissfully ignorant of war, death, taxes and mortgages. All there was was summer, baseball and mosquitoes.

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10 Reasons

Posted: September 26, 2003 in Everything

Recently I was reading articles from one of my favorite websites, The Ooze. I was amazed by the honesty and accuracy of a great article by John O’Keefe, entitled, “10 Reasons Why Your Church Sucks.”

O’Keefe recounts having lunch with a friend when the two are approached by a leader at his former church. This is the friend’s response after being prodded by the church leaders’ incessant and invalidating questions.

First he said, your church is totally irrelevant to the community. You all talk a good game, but you do not see the dynamic of the community changing around you. Second, your church is filled with poor leaders and over bearing bullies who believe the best way to get anything done is to frighten people. All you have are people who will tell you what to do, and not lead us in doing it. Third, your church has no vision. You guys are just dead in the water. Fourth, your church is old. Your church is filled with old people who have no reason to move ahead. They have more life behind them then they do ahead of them. Fifth, your church is inbred. The people my age in your church are all related to the older people so change is impossible. People who are part of the outside don’t feel welcomed into the inside and voice an opinion; it’s filled with mama’s boys. Sixth, your church is more concerned about image than reality. You all seem to be more concerned with the condition of the building then with building the condition of your people. The carpet looks great, because no food is allowed near it. The stain glass is wonderful; because you spend more money on cleaning and maintaining it then you do on mission work. Seventh, your church sees no need for change. You are all happy in your fortress and are not interested in opening your doors to the outside. Evangelism is a dead concept, and community is only those inside the building. Eighth, your church doesn’t share a relevant message for a relevant time. You are so concerned with doctrine, you are not allowing me to explore the faith and question the unquestionable. Ninth, your church doesn’t care about me as a person, only as a checkbook. Over the time I was with the church I heard more sermons on how much I should be giving and not one on how much you were willing to give up. The only time I had anyone from your church visit me was when pledge time came around and you needed me to increase my giving. It got to the point were I felt no matter what I gave it would never be enough. Tenth, your church is all politics and infighting. Things only get done if you can muster enough political support form others to get your point to be heard, press your issues and lobby for approval. You have to wheel and deal to get anything done.

WOW! This guy fillets his old church. Unfortunately, his critique is all to familiar for many churches. The institutional church has been blessed with Jesus and oftentimes traded Him for counterfeit comfort. It’s become a country club with a cross.

My prayer is that every church, everywhere continue to convert and re-convert the church of our Lord. It is the only way we can be the place of peace, love and purpose God calls us to be.

Woeful, Wonderful Worship

Posted: September 25, 2003 in Everything

Wednesday night is one of the best parts of my week. Our student ministry has a mid-week meeting called VineLife. It is essentially a youth praise and worship service. It’s very simple in nature; we play a game, share prayer request and worship.

Occasionally, like yesterday, the worship leader and I will step out and introduce and new song. Last night we did two. One was great! The second wasn’t so great. Few of our kids knew it, the leader had just learned it and it’s not the easiest song to sing. The song wasn’t bad, it was just new.

Surprisingly, no one said anything about this subtle stumble in our worship service. Well, that’ not quite true. Several of them spoke later about how excited they were to learn it and they looked forward to singing it again.

I’ve never had an adult become excited after a service didn’t go well. Somewhere in adulthood we forget that life with God is about passion and not the perfection of our (and others’) performance.

That’s the beauty of a child-like faith! Kids seem to know that life with God is going to have glorious stumbles and moments of magic and adventure. They don’t expect Christianity to fit into the nicely ornamented charm-boxes so many of us call life. Kids instinctively know that faith is something to be lived, something that moves and flows. That’s why they have so much trouble sitting still in church.

They know that Jesus is passionate, risky, wild and free. They know that with Jesus, nothing can be bottled or hermetically sealed. So when things don’t go exactly as planned it’s no surprise to them. They would never try to fit God into a DayRunner or financial statement. It’s much more joyful to let the wind blow where it pleases.

As Dan Taylor puts it, “Mistaking this active life of faith for an institutionally backed and culturally bound belief system is similar to reducing the Mona Lisa to paint-by-numbers.”

Divine Danger

Posted: September 18, 2003 in Everything

For the last month I’ve been flipping through the photo album of the life of David, the king of Israel, as told in I and II Samuel. A few of those snapshots have made their way into sermons that my congregation has been gracious enough not to cough and write notes through (at least not too much).

David was a man after God’s own heart, which might lead some of us to think that God’s anointing would guarantee that David’s scrapbook would be stuffed with perfect pictures. We might expect his life to exemplify the easy exchange of faithfulness and fulfillment that some of those purple-suited preachers promise on television. Isn’t that the way it is supposed to work? We do our part and God does His! Isn’t life with God supposed to be comfortable and safe? The problem is that God is far to loving and passionate to not be dangerous.

Brent Curtis and John Eldredge put it this way:

“When we think of God being good, we perhaps picture someone like Al on the popular TV program,Home Improvement. He is someone who carefully plans out each task ahead of time and has all the proper tools and safety equipment in place; someone who has thought out every possible danger ahead of time and made allowances to ensure our safety as his workmate; someone who goes to bed early, gets plenty of rest, and wears flannel shirts as a mark of reliability.”

“Being in partnership with God, though, often feels much more like being Mel Gibson’s sidekick in the movie Lethal Weapon. In His determination to deal with the bad guy, he leaps from seventh-story balconies into swimming pools, surprised that we would have any hesitation in following after him. Like Indiana Jones’s love interest in the movies, we find ourselves caught up in an adventure of heroic proportions with a God who both seduces us with his boldness and energy and repels us with his willingness to place us in mortal danger, suspended over pits of snakes.”

God lives and loves adventure! That’s why David’s video yearbook has him darting in and out of caves, running for his life, fighting battles, killing giants and dancing before the Lord.

Life with God has never been safe. But oh, what an adventure!

The word on street is that a baby will be arriving at our house sometime in November. My wife, Rochelle, is well into her seventh month. We are entering the home stretch marks!

A child–even before she arrives–radically shifts your priorities. For instance, before Ro became pregnant, we planned and dreamed of an Alaskan cruise. I had thoughts of setting sail on a city on the sea. I panted for breath-taking views of snow-capped mountains shooting out of ice-crusted earth. I wanted to see God’s overflowing beauty reflected in the open waters of the sea.

Having grown up in Mississippi, Georgia, and Texas, I thought I would see God at his grandest in Alaska. The tall pines of Mississippi, the red clay of Georgia and the desert brown of Texas never had given me that sense.

However, the financial necessities of baby-dom have arrested that dream for the time being. Our cruise turned into a crib, a car seat and cutesy clothes for a little girl.

I remember having a moment of immense selfishness, thinking to myself about how I missed Alaska. Then Rochelle grabbed my hand in the early hours of the morning and placed it on her stomach. Just then, my daughter-to-be kicked (she’s bound to be the cutest little girl EVER), and Alaska melted away.

Rochelle beamed! Her smile is heaven’s horizon.

That moment reminded me that God is grand–everywhere, always! May those who have eyes to see, see Him!

Every morning immediately after his 5 am potty break, my dog, Ralph nestles himself against my left leg. Like clockwork, he warms himself under our covers and into my heart. I’ve never really liked dogs. I bought Ralph for my wife’s birthday last year–she is a lifelong dog lover. I figured that if I got her something she loved, her love for me would only increase.

Every day I see or realize something divine in living life with a pet. Each day I catch a glimpse of God through a 13-inch beagle. In many ways, Ralph has been the bearer of Good News in our home.

This morning as Ralph snored his day away, I was struck with the incredible trust he has in me. I am much larger and stronger than he is, but he has no fear that I might become malicious and hurt him. I make all the rules–some he likes (the 9 pm snack), some he’s not so crazy about (he can’t sleep in the bed at night), but he responds well to each of them. No barking, no pouting.

Ralph is a breathing toy. I tug his ears, play with his nose and make him chase his own tail. He never flinches. He knows I wasn’t created to hurt him.

I’ve had to do many things to Ralph that I wish I didn’t have to do. I’ve held him down while his vet performed the most invasive procedures. I’ve had to withhold meals on Dr.’s orders. I’ve had to bring him near strangulation when he once got too aggressive with my wife. In those moments, there is no way he can understand that what I’m doing isn’t meant to cause pain. It is meant to heal and protect.

Each time I return home, Ralph races to door, eyes shining and tail waging. He rockets off the floor like Sputnik, jumping to near head high just to say “hello.” He’s glad to have the company of those who care for him.

So this morning as he dreamed of chasing rabbits and treeing bunnies I was reminded about trust. I thought about the myriad times I have failed to trust God. I secretly believed He wasn’t there or didn’t care. Ralph reminds me that my assessment couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’m mindful of God’s care for me during every trip to the vet’s office as I take care of my dog.

Ralph whispers to me that when my mind’s VCR replays scenes of suffering, God was there. He was there doing for my well-being the thing that had to be done. He was caring for me in situations when I could not care for myself.

Now surely, the question of suffering cannot be answered through the life of a short-haired dog (if it can be answered fully at all). But if a dog, who endured tremendous suffering before we adopted him, can learn to trust again, maybe I can too.

The Palmer Perspective is a new venture, set out in the hopes that this will be a place to unearth the relics of goodness and pleasure of our Lord on earth. Like most westerners, I have seen all the harm and evil that vast technologies like the Internet can create–or rather illuminate–and desire an oasis of goodness. A place where those who seek wonderment and faithfulness can find respite from a world retreating from the pleasures only our Lord can provide.

My hope is for people to be drawn nearer to whom they were created to be–a truer version of themselves. Let’s enjoy the journey together.

–Sean