Archive for August, 2011


who IS my neighbor?

I heard a story on the radio the other day (yes, sorry… I am a HUGE National Public Radio fan) about the very robust health of small-town weekly newspapers. It said that contrary to the national trends we are seeing, small-town newspapers are more popular than ever and are actually making money.

If you are still one of the staunch minority who still subscribe to your big city, hometown daily newspaper you have no doubt noticed that it keeps consolidating, getting smaller and bringing less and less news to your doorstep. The speculation in this story was that most folks prefer to get their news electronically… whether by the TV or internet. By the time a news story has been reported, written, typeset, and printed on sheets of newsprint, it is as stale as yesterday’s toast.

So why are the small-town papers doing so well while others struggle?

The primary theory proposed by the person being interviewed was that people love the COMMUNITY created by those newspapers. The stories they carry are about the local high school football team, the winners of the “largest zucchini” competition at the county fair, the comings and goings at the Baptist Church ice cream social and the little scandalous bits of news about the calls the local police department responded to… news stories about people that people know and care about. In contrast, a story about a murder or fire or an earthquake in Chile doesn’t create nearly the same level of interest in the casual newspaper reader.

No doubt this is the same dynamic that is behind the popularity of Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace and other social media. These are avenues that allow us to stay abreast of the events in the lives of the communities we care about most… the community of “people I know.”

As we each think about the news events that most capture our attention and contemplate our call to Christian discipleship, the question inevitably arises, “Who is my neighbor?” Or to ask the real question Jesus intended to pose, “Who are you and I called to care about?”

We are certainly called to care about the people nearest and dearest to us… beginning with our family and then radiating outward. But just how far “outward” can our compassion radiate before it becomes strained and weakened and ineffective? We ask ourselves, “Can I realistically care about everyone?”

And of course, we can’t. We are not that strong. We are not that compassionate. Most of the time, left to our own devices and inclinations, we are really not even that nice. That is the exact moment we come face to face with the need to be empowered by something that is distinctly “not us.” It is not just the addict or the alcoholic who faces the need to “surrender my life to God.” The need to be fully surrendered… to earnestly pray, “Not my will, God, but yours,” and really MEAN it is the faith challenge each of us face every day.

This is why we worship. This is why we gather in community. We come to meet God and we come to hold each other accountable to be the willing and surrendered disciples God calls us to be. I pray that God continues to work with each one of us and draw us into that bond of AUTHENTIC discipleship every day.


the mysteries of prayer…

Do you remember what you were doing one year ago at this time? I remember that Joan and I were spending our fourth or fifth night in a motel room after our central air-conditioning gave up the ghost in the middle of the Heat Wave of 2010. What blessed relief when the new one was finally installed and the house began to cool down from the 90 degree inside temperatures we had been experiencing.

I also recall that it was just about this time one year ago that we had our ears glued to the news reports of the 33 miners trapped underground by the mine collapse in Chile. The mine collapsed on August 5, 2010 and it was not until August 17 that rescuers were able to bore a hole that finally reached into the air pocket 2,000 feet below the ground where they were huddled. I remember the global cry of joy when the people on the surface pulled up a note attached to the end of their probe that read, “We’re all good in the refuge, the 33.”

“The refuge.” Interesting choice of words… they could have called it “the air pocket” or “the chamber,“ or maybe if they were in a more pessimistic mood, “our tomb.” But the main story that was told again and again during the ordeal was the story of the non-stop prayers, both of the miners themselves and of the friends and family members on the surface. It raises an interesting question about the nature of prayer for all of us. Does prayer change God’s mind, or ours? In other words, is there a “critical mass” of prayer that must be achieved before God decides to intervene to supernaturally rescue miners trapped underground (or anOverland Parkhusband and wife without air conditioning)?

Or perhaps is it more accurate to say that placing our trust wholly in God during the crisis points in our life is the critical factor that helps us see hope where things might otherwise look hopeless? Might prayer be the crucial ingredient that helps us call a tomb a refuge? I will be the first to admit that there is a whole lot I don’t understand about prayer. One thing that I DO know is true – without knowing why – is that “more is better” in matters of prayer.

In the days and weeks and months ahead I want to challenge us to continue and deepen our prayer life as a congregation. As we put more of our attention on what GOD has in mind for this church and less on what WE have in mind, I predict we will be led into some awesome and fruitful places. True, we might have to dare to let go of some treasured artifacts from the past along the way, but God is so incredibly good and faithful and will ALWAYS provide beyond our wildest imagination.


how precious

Joan’s daughter (my step-daughter) Jessica has just begun her first year as a medical resident in the OB-GYN specialty area. She is alternating time between Saint Luke’s on the Plaza and Truman Medical Center. The other day she entered a very excited post on her Facebook page that said she was about to do her first, unassisted C-section delivery. All apparently went very well, the baby and mother (and father) were overjoyed, and Jessica went on to the next task in her busy day.

But I had to stop for a moment and think about that baby. A new life entered the world at that moment. It brought with it a new history, and soon would have new thoughts and hopes and expectations and experiences. I know absolutely nothing about the family that received that new life, but I do know that nothing will be the same for them from this moment forward. They will do everything in their power to provide a safe, stimulating, and loving environment for little Baby New Life. They do not know what the future holds for them, but somehow they will do their best to deal with whatever comes their way.

The gift of life can be simultaneously miraculous and mundane… awesome beyond belief and astonishingly trite and trivial. We get to see, taste, and experience it every day and so we come gradually to ignore the miracle and wonder of being alive HERE and NOW. Not so for the “survivors” among us. People who have survived a life-threatening disease, or perhaps a terrible accident speak almost universally of their new-found appreciation for the absolute preciousness of the gift of life.

The fact of the matter is that life IS precious… whether we have survived cancer or not. Our faith and our time spent alone with God in prayer, study or meditation can be the doorway to kindling that awareness in all of us. And then we come to see that the heightened awareness of the preciousness of MY life leads to a heightened awareness of the preciousness of YOUR life. And that leads me to treat you with a new kind of dignity and respect… even if we have never met. And I am pretty sure that this is the kind of world Jesus had in mind all along.

My challenge every day – and I hope yours, too – is how will I both experience and express the love that is innately part of my being. Come to worship this Sunday and join together with a community of people who love life and the world we live in!

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