One-Armed Guitar Playing

This past week was one of many amazing sights, sounds, and experiences. I had the privilege of taking two 5th and 6th graders and their moms to Orlando to experience Group’s Week of Hope Preteen Week. They have an incredible program that partners with local organizations in each city in order to provide practical service needs in fields that deal directly with individuals. We served at Orlando Health and Rehabilitation Center, a place that held 425 residents that ranged from temporary rehab visits to long-term care. I cannot imagine myself working there as that kind of work is so far beyond my comfort zone, but the care, and gentle strength of each nurse and staff member inspired and impressed me.

My girls took time out of their summer to spend time with these residents. They read to them, sang with them, played games with them, baked cookies for them, and even sorted laundry for them. (Laundry day was the hardest for me just for the sheer number of clothes and people coming to claim them.) Regardless of the challenge or task, my two girls stepped up and did whatever was asked of them and did not complain once. To say I am proud of them would be an understatement, and to say their parents are proud of them would be even more of an understatement. I enjoyed watching the moms experience their child’s explosion of service, leadership, and worship. I call it an explosion, because for one student in particular, if you had told me she would be willing to lead 25 people in a devotion by herself before this trip, I would never have believed you.

We also took an afternoon to visit Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney.) The camp had given us an afternoon off where we could go and visit the local attractions after serving for half a day. We had a blast tasting international Cokes (including Beverley, yuck!) and ate a delicious meal at Portobello. The highlight of my afternoon (besides watching the students experience Disney, my first poutine, and the exquisite gelato) was watching Nicholas Marks perform on his classical guitar. I know you’re thinking, “Classical guitar was your highlight? NERD!” And, in some ways, you are right. However, just watch this guy and tell me you aren’t impressed. (Skip to 2:40 to see the one-handed technique.)

This man impressed all of us, and even got our two students to sit quietly and watch in utter fascination while listening to beautiful music. I could try to go into detail about his skill, but, really, it would be useless. His talent and skill was in sharp contrast to the muscular atrophy and lack of control we had seen in the residents up to that point. Here was a man in the prime of talent and skill, whereas I knew I would have to see Donna again the next day.

Donna was a resident at OHRC who was confined to a bed at all times, and who only had control of one hand. And, goodness, if she got hold of you with that hand, you knew it! But she had a sweet heart and an eye for Scrabble that was misleading. She managed to trounce several of us the first few days. Later on in the week, though we received something from her. I brought my guitar (which I play with only a smidgin of skill) in order to sing with/to the residents. Several of the students from the multiple crews with us decided to come along as well. As we traveled the halls, we landed in Donna’s room. Now, one more thing about Donna is that she has trouble speaking – everything sounds slurred and loose like soup going through a strainer. But when we struck the first chord and sung the first word of Amazing Grace, Donna’s face lit up and she began to sing, recognizably, along with us. Many of us there suddenly had allergy trouble and our eyes started watering, but to see that face singing as strongly as she could with her good arm wrapped around the hand of one of our adults seemed as amazing as a one-armed guitarist.

In that moment, that one arm, which still gave her fits, played our heart strings with the skill of Nicholas Marks. God was in that moment, reminding us that worship is so much more than skill, that love is so much more than demonstration.

Where in your life do you feel inadequate to the task? How can you let go of your insecurity and allow God to be present in your life? When do you celebrate God using your weakness at home?

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Whose Church is it Anyway?

Change is hard. Change is very hard. Change in churches is impossibly hard. And I’m not even talking about grand sweeping theological or moral changes, I’m talking about the color of a carpet.

The question then becomes, whose church is it anyway? If it’s our church, then all of our tithes have been toward keeping up a spiritual vacation house and paying the live-in staff to keep the programs running smoothly. And when you put it that way, why wouldn’t we all just save the tithe and buy the vacation house?

If it’s the church that Jesus established, then our tithes and volunteer service are going toward training and equipping Jesus’ followers to go and make more disciples by bringing more people into the family. In that case, the church is more like a training facility to build up and send out thoroughly prepared men and women (and kids!) to stake more ground for the Kingdom!

I see it as a matter of perspective. Some view the church as a place to sit down, be passive, absorb esoteric knowledge, and receive. While others, I think more rightly, view the church as a place to heal, to get stronger, and then launch out into the world around in order to change it for the better.

The Church is a living, breathing organism, made up of individual people each contributing by being active in service, in love, and in forgiveness. There’s a word for a group of inactive, unproductive cells in a living body…

Being a member of a church is a call to action, a call to service, a call to something more. It’s a call to ask God for one more person to bring to Him. It’s a call, and duty, to train up the next generation. It’s a call to stop being a passive receiver, and become and active contributor. The church belongs to Jesus; it’s His bride, not ours.

So the next time some cosmetic change or strange service project looms on the horizon, remember that it’s Jesus’ Church doing one more thing to bring everyone it can to Jesus.

Isn’t that God’s job?

Ok, by now you know this is opinion blog, so this’ll be the last time for a while I make one of these hedging statements. This is opinion and thoughts that have been bouncing around in my own head and may or may not be helpful.

Ok, so one question asked by people who doubt has bothered me for quite a while: “Why doesn’t God just do something about _________ if He’s so powerful?” And, really, for a long time, I had no idea how to answer that. Up until recently, I would usually turn with that person, look to God in prayer and say, “Yeah… that guy does have a point. What are you gonna do about that?” Maybe not the most respectful, but I recently heard Os Guinness – a Christian and social philosopher and activist – who pointed back to Genesis.

Genesis 1.26, 28 (JPS):

“And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on the earth.’ […] God blessed [the humans] and said to them, ‘Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on the earth.”

I don’t know about you, but I often see this passage tossed about in sermons about marriage and its purpose, but I rarely hear anyone go any farther. That whole bit about “master the earth” and “rule the animals” seems to get swept under the rug. In other words, God created the world and then, in His love and wisdom, created humans (us) and gave us the charge to take care of the whole lot. Bit of a task…

It goes without saying (or maybe not) that God can and does directly interact with His creation even today, performing miracles of healing and provision. He also continues to charge us with the task of performing that healing and performing acts of provision for others. So often we like to take a all-or-nothing approach to what we should do. Some Christians feel like God is distant and expecting us to create heaven on earth on our own, while others feel like God is directly interacting and we need to stand back and let him work. And I agree with parts of both sides. I see that God is near and interacting and also expects us to do what we can.

When we seek first the Kingdom, the service, love, and actions that spread the message of Jesus the King, everything else will be added. The parable of the soils shows that receptive soil produces a harvest a hundred times what was sown. Consider your own efforts – if God is working in them your efforts will produce results beyond anything you could imagine.

I also have issues with people who use what they see as God’s inaction as a weapon. I see these people have incredible faith in science and the progress of human development. But, really, the issues and problems they see in the world could have been solved if humanity would have been taking its role of caretakers and rulers seriously instead of investing so much time into creating better ways to kill or injure one another. Just consider how much farther along medical science would be if we pumped as much into that as into weapon development over the past 2000 years or more.

TL;DR

We have to strike a balance between trusting God to handle and multiply our own efforts, as large or small as they may be, and striking out boldly against things like poverty, oppression, violence, hatred, and the like. God has charged us as his children, as inheritors of a mighty kingdom, to take responsibility for ourselves, and the world around us.

Questions:

How does your family handle responsibility? Do your children have chores or activities that are their responsibility? How do you handle when people fail to take care of their responsibilities?

Building the Wrong Pyramid

Lately I’ve been giving a lot of thought to ministry, service, and how we approach things in the church. In particular, the way in which we tend to see some people as being higher than others, and if that’s really beneficial.

In some ways I see the church putting ministers at the top of a pyramid, with the people of the world at the bottom of that same pyramid. Church people place themselves on the pyramid somewhere, depending on how they feel that day. I’ve been wondering, though, have we been building the wrong pyramid? What would happen if we flipped the thing upside down?

Jesus did. Jesus took issue with the right side up pyramid and sought to flip it whenever possible. Instead of supporting this hierarchy, he pulled his students from the outcasts, the unwanted. He taught his disciples that, “the first will be last, and the last first.” He pointed out that they should be like him when he washed their feet, taking the form of the lowest servant.

I will be honest, it’s hard to convince people to be leaders. People don’t like the top. Many people don’t like heights, especially social ones. So what if we considered that ministers, elders, deacons, and leaders weren’t at the top of the pyramid, but at the bottom?

For one, and upside down pyramid isn’t very stable. It would need some help standing up – meaning more dependence on God. Also, when we ask people to take on more responsibility at church, we aren’t asking them to “step up” we’re now asking them to “step down” toward the bottom where Jesus is leading. Ministers aren’t rulers by any stretch of the imagination, they are the lowest rung servants seeking to build God’s kingdom here on earth by serving others before themselves. And, really, that should be every Christian’s mission, not just paid ministers.

I Am Willing

Going through the gospel books is something I have started in the last few months. I made it through Mark and have started on Luke. (I took a detour through 1 Corinthians, but that’s neither here nor there.) Today I read Luke 5:12-16 – the story about healing a leper.

I was always struck with Jesus’ gesture, that he would reach out and touch the man with such an infectious disease. I can only imagine what the people around Jesus must have thought. Would Jesus become a leper? Would all of them end up with a disease? It must have been a tense moment for those who were well.

But I think about the man who was touched – who may have not had much human contact in months or even years. Who knows when he had last seen his family, his friends. Despite this, he took a chance, had some faith and met Jesus. I’m sure Jesus could sense what this man needed, and it was more than a healing.

I hope we can all pray for those who go out into the world in order to bring healing to others. There is a serious situation over in Africa, and hundreds are volunteering to make the journey in order to help those in need.

But what about here at home? In our churches, there are adults and kids who may not receive affection at home. On our streets are people who need a meal and someone to talk to. In our homes, there may be children who need more time that’s not tied up in some scheduled activity or another.

These individuals are each saying what the leper said, “If you are willing, you can make me well.” The answer is up to you.