Saturday, December 12, 2009

Clinging to George Bailey

I've invested some time in reflection these last several months. During the dark moments - and there have been many - I have reflected on the "could haves" and "should haves" in my life. I've ruminated over regrets. I've agonized over choices made and opportunities lost.

To be completely honest, it has been difficult. Painful. Draining.

I am forty-two years old, and I can't help but think that, by now, I should have gotten it together. When I was a younger man and I would make a mistake, those around me would chalk it up to youth and inexperience. When I would offend someone, they were quicker to look past my actions and assume the best about my intentions.

But those days are long past.

I have this sense that, by now, I should have fewer of those regrettable moments. There should be more distance between my relational missteps. And, actually, I think there are fewer of those moments, I think. I am more relationally adept. But at age forty-two, and in the work that I do, even a very occasional mistake seems to carry with it more consequence.

It's a Wonderful Life was on the television tonight. I can relate to George Bailey. George lived with regrets. And in the darkest moment of his life they flooded his mind like a tsunami. He saw the places he wanted to go but never did. He thought how his wife would have been better of if she had married Sam Wainright. He even went so far as to reckon that his family would be better off with a $15,000 life insurance settlement and no husband and father.

Is there any man who hasn't wondered if he should have taken a different turn at the crossroads of his life?

I have - especially on days like today.

It is then that I cling to George Bailey. At the conclusion of Frank Capra's masterpiece, George learns that he really did make a difference. Maybe he didn't build sky scrapers or design railroad trestles, but he really did make a difference. At George's lowest point, Clarence, George's guardian angel tells him, "Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole . . ."

There are a lot of things I guess I would do differently. But here I am. I haven't made a million. I am not the pastor of a mega-church. My mailbox isn't overflowing with speaking invitations.

But, like George Bailey, I am trusting that my legacy is at the same time more obscure and more profound. My legacy is named Abby; my legacy is named Caleb; my legacy is named Jonah. I'm clinging to that, this Christmas.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Shop with a Cop (Chaplain)

Last Saturday I enjoyed spending the morning with little Davey (not his real name) as part of the Lansing Police Department's Shop With a Cop program. We had a blast.

I'll admit that I was a little nervous at first. And when Davey's mom told me that he was really quiet and shy I was even more so. But when we loaded up to head out to the Wal-Mart, Davey began to loosen up. And why not. We were in line with over seventy-five police vehicles with sirens blaring and lights blazing - every little kid's dream parade! Davey and his brother rode in back while I rode shotgun with Officer George doing the driving. Questions and squeals of delight came from the back seat as motorcycle cops raced ahead to block the intersections between us and the Wal-Mart.

When we arrived Davey and I got in line to get his picture taken with Santa. We had to wait a while, but he was patient, if a little fidgety. When Santa and Mrs. Claus asked him what he wanted for Christmas he wrinkled up his nose and thought really hard before answering. I leaned in to listen but missed his reply. Then he hopped down, grabbed the cart and we headed off to the toy aisle.

Because of the generosity of the program's benefactors, each child was allowed to spend $100. the next hour was a test of my math skills and Davey's shopping prowess as toys went in and out of the cart faster than shoppers through a revolving door. Davey finally settled on a couple of GI Joe vehicles and a Star Wars storm trooper helmet and blaster. He remembered to get a gift for his mom, and his brother and sister, too.

When we headed to the cash registers to check out, he had a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. After a meal at Subway, we headed our separate ways.

Hopefully Davey will have a Merry Christmas. Because of the generosity of the LPD and the supporters of this program, over 90 children will have a brighter holiday. And, if any of the officers are like this police chaplain, I know their Christmas will be brighter, too.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The odd hardcover book

I grabbed my copy of William Barclay's commentary on Romans this morning to examine his thoughts on Romans 14. My Christian Doctrine professor, Mr. Fisher, frequently warned us against using Barclay as he denied the miracles of Jesus. Or at least that is what I recall him saying. Still, good ol' Bill has helped me understand the Jewish-ness of the New Testament, and I find that he adds to my understanding of scripture more often than he takes away from it.

The book is part of a complete set of Barclay's Daily Bible Study Commentary. My associate, Wally, has his commentaries scattered in scriptural order. All the Luke commentaries, followed by those from John, then Acts and so on. I prefer to keep them in sets. There is something about having similar bindings together that gives me a feeling of orderliness. My College Press commentaries have faux marble dust jackets and sit on the second-to-top shelf. Keil and Delitzsch, with their gold lettering on brown cloth reside on the Old Testament section just above James Smith's five volume Old Testament set. I know where they all are and they, staring at my back while I work, seem to know where I am, too.

The sets look uniform. All of them, but the Barclay, that is.

Bill's books are nearly all paperbacks. Most are blue; a couple are green; and two are even hot pink. And one - Romans - is the lone hardcover, a cloth-bound island in a sea of paperbacks.

The hardcover - the only one in the series that I ever paid for - I purchased from Claudia McGilvery, the proprietress of The Christian Bible House in Kokomo, Indiana. Claudia and her husband, Bill, were members of the first church I served full-time, the Kokomo Church of Christ. Her cramped little bookstore on Lincoln Avenue was longer than it was wide, and it was packed from floor to ceiling with books, curriculum and all manner of teaching aids long before WWJD bracelets and "Bud-wise-up" t-shirts began littering the Christian landscape.

I don't remember why I bought the book. I was a youth and music minister back then and preached maybe three, four times a year. One of those must have been a sermon from Romans.

Normally, a multi-colored, odd-book-out set would offend my sense of order. (The more cynical reader might say, my obsessive compulsive disorder.) To the contrary, the motley assortment of colors and coverings is a reminder of how I came to own them. They were gifts from Violette.

Claudia was amazing, so when I moved to Butler, Indiana to become the preacher at the Butler Church of Christ, I was surprised to find another, equally godly Christian bookseller - Violette Patee.

Violette was a pioneer in Christian retailing. I could write a whole column about her alone - how she went sixty years without missing a Sunday; how she broke her leg on the way into church, taught Sunday school, and then went to the hospital to have it set. But the lasting impact that Violette had on my life is in my library.

One October - it was pastor appreciation month - Violette sent our church secretary on a clandestine mission to find out what commentaries I had, or rather didn't have. When she learned that my "set" of William Barclay consisted of my lonely Romans volume, she gave me a couple more to keep him company. The next year she did the same. Occasionally one would show up at Christmas. Before too many years, the set was assembled, as Johnny Cash sang, "one piece at a time, and it didn't cost me a dime."

Violette passed away one August a few years back, and I was privileged to preside at her funeral. And yet, years after her death and over a decade since she gave me the first of many, many books, I can't pick up one of Violette's books without feeling the imprint that she left on my life.

My Violette books are emblematic of my life, really. I am who I am because, like my library, people have contributed to me bit by bit, patiently adding worth here and there, refining, carving, and polishing. There is very little that I have achieved on my own. (Is there anything at all?)

And for that, I am grateful.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Comet Marching Band

My son's band, the Grand Ledge High School marching Comets, perform their field show at the 2009 Grand Ledge Exhibition, performing selections composed by Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich Wednesday, October 7, 2009. (The last several seconds are, regretably, cut off on this video as I ran out of memory on my video card.)

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Inspired play from the Junior Comets

Jonah's 8th-grade football team defeated a determined Dewitt squad earlier today with a last second goal line stand that will be remembered long after these boys stop dreaming of NFL glory. It was their second such defensive denial of the game.

Previously, with the ball spotted at the Grand Ledge one yard line, the Dewitt boys lined up for a fourth and inches first-down try.

All day long the Dewitt squad had run behind their huge left tackle, a surprisingly athletic eight-grader that was listed on the roster at 305 pounds. With their backs to the wall, the Junior Comets called on their goal line defense package to come in and plug the gaps. My son's task: stop the Panther's enormous left tackle from plowing a path through the Comet defense.

When the ball was snapped, the D-line fired off and stuffed the Dewitt runner for no gain. With the ball turned over to the Comets on downs, the scoring threat was averted.

The Ledge took an 18-7 lead into the fourth quarter, but that was quickly trimmed to 18-14. And, with time running out, Dewitt was threatening to score again. Masterfully working the ball down field in as fine a hurry-up offense as I have ever seen executed in eighth-grade play, the Junior Panthers were threatening to snatch the victory away from the Comets. With first-and-goal, a pair of timeouts and thirty seconds, they hammered away at the defense pushing the ball all the way to the Comet two yard line.

After their final timeout, with only twelve seconds left on the clock, the Junior Panthers hustled to the line of scrimmage where the ball was spotted less than six feet from victory. Once again they ran behind their massive left tackle, who by now was referred to by the Comets simply as, "Mountain."

Once again, the Comet defense held.

I have never been more inspired by of proud of my son's effort on a football field.

At the conclusion of the game, as we were slowly walking across the field with a chill wind blowing in our faces, Jonah said, "Dad, I hit that guy as hard as I could, and every time I did, it hurt."

Maybe so, son. But I am pretty certain it hurt him, too. And you have a win to show for it.

Atta' boy!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pennies, people, and things that matter . . .

My friend, Paul, took me for a spin in his new mini-van the other day. Aside from the fact that Paul surrendered and is now driving a grocery getter in anticipation of the imminent delivery of his firstborn child, I learned something else on the trip. Paul is frustrated by one of the vehicles accessories - or the lack thereof. Paul's vehicle, like many others, comes with a spot for coins. Just not a spot for the pennies.

There is one for quarters, dimes and nickles, but President Lincoln is just out of luck, I guess.

Naturally, I was compelled to check each of my vehicles. Turns out Paul isn't the only one that got short-changed (sorry - couldn't resist). My vehicles are similarly configured. My Dodge, in fact, even has a spot for fifty cent pieces, but nary a place for a penny.

Paul and I considered why that was so. I finally settled on this explanation: you don't use pennies for tolls and meters so the designers didn't include them. That was preferable to my more cynical conclusion - that pennies are just worthless. Turns out there are a lot of folks that think that way, including a congressmen and a biophysics professor from Berkeley.

Some think pennies are a waste of time. Others believe they are a waste of resources (they're made, mostly, of zinc now).

And yet, there is strong opposition to pitching them penny from folks who long for more nostalgic days and from those who love Abraham Lincoln too much to confine him to the five dollar bill.

Pennies might be worthless, or they might not be. The thing that I find striking is how some folks have the same attitude about people. Some look at their neighbor and find him or her a waste of time. Some think they're too much trouble. They're a waste of resources; they have no apparent purpose, but instead are just left over from the transactions that "really matter."

I'll admit that, while I've never consciously voiced that opinion or even consciously thought it, may actions have communicated, from time to time, that people don't matter.

But they do.

Every time.

All the time.

There are no useless people; no societal "leftovers." And while there might not be a spot for a penny in my mini-van, I hope there is always room for another person. Because people matter.

Come to think of it, I think I like pennies, too. Turns out that one of the leading proponents of keeping the penny is a guy named Mark Weller (a distant cousin perhaps?). His organization, Americans for Common Cents, lobbies in Washington, D.C. for the penny's preservation.

And, if we're going to lobby congress for the preservation of something as relatively insignificant as a penny, then I am certainly going to do all I can to preserve people.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Take the next step

The thing is, spiritually, we never arrive. There is always something more. Some other challenge. Some "next step" that we are called to take.

Take sanctification. ("Please!" some would say.) Just when the Holy Spirit cleans up one part of my life and I begin to think I am finally getting the hang of this faith thing, God reveals another area of my heart that needs swept clean. I'm reminded of the Mennonite Bishop that told his protege, "When you've been practicing the discipline for forty years it goes this much easier," as he held his thumb and forefinger a fraction of an inch apart.

Or what about service? God - though never demanding more than He was willing to give (and gave) - always urges me to do more. Paul expressed it this way:
I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back.
God always challenges his followers to take the next step.

What is the next step for you?

At South Lansing Christian Church, we focus on seeking, studying and serving God. And we frequently challenge people with where they are in that process. What is the next step that God is calling me to make? Does God want me to take a step of faith and serve him somewhere or with someone that challenges my comfort? Am I being called to take the next step by embracing some spiritual discipline that will help me seek God? Does God want me to take a step of faith and start doing life together with others in a study group?

The next step . . .

Over the course of the next four weeks, South is going to be exploring this idea of taking the next step in your spiritual journey. At the conclusion of that series, on October 4, I will challenge you to take the next step - wherever God is leading. And, there is a concrete, specific way that you can demonstrate that you're going to do so.

On Sunday, October 4, I am asking every person that commits to taking the next step to bring a pair of new or clean used kid-sized boots or shoes with them to church. We'll be donating them to kids that need them. Can't afford boots or shoes? No problem - bring a new pair of socks. We'll gather them all up and distribute them where they're needed.

Your generous donation will serve two purposes. First, it will signify that you're going to take the next step in your faith journey. You're going to go where God wants you to go - whether that is joining a study group, or committing to a regular time alone with Him, or diving into an area of service. And, in a very real way, your donation will bless a child with warm toes this winter.

I hope you will join me and take the next step.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Walt's rolling over right now . . .

My daughter and her Indiana friends made this distorti . . . er adaptation of the Disney classic, "I'll Make a Man Out of You," from the movie Mulan. Wow!

Monday, August 17, 2009

School bus . . . racing!

Saturday was a loooong day for me, but a great one. The day began with a speech at the ribbon cutting ceremony for Butler Public Library in Butler, Indiana. When I lived in Butler I was President of the library board when we embarked upon a facility expansion. I helped raise some of the money and got the ball rolling on the project, and then I left town. The new President, Larry Moore, together with Library Director Ellen Stuckey and his fellow board members picked up the project and saw it through to completion. And they did an amazing job! What a great way to start the day.

Then I headed back to Lansing where I performed two weddings. They were beautiful and went off without a hitch. I stopped in at both wedding receptions before heading over to I-96 Speedway where I drove in an 8 lap school bus race on their eighth mile dirt track. It was a blast! I started on the inside of the first row. When the flag dropped, my friend Fred Lab, who was positioned just outside of me, tried to cut me off in turn one. I hammered him. By the time we made it around turn two I had about half of my paint on the side of his bus and was clearly in the lead.

I maintained the lead for most of the race, but on lap seven things began to get interesting. Chris Rice, who is Kenny Wallace's crew chief was driving one of the other buses. Apparently he didn't hear track owner Mike Mouch's talk about sparing the radiators. He started banging into Fred's back end, and then into me! That pushed me up high on the back stretch enabling Rice and Freddo to come in underneath me.

Naturally, Rice and I made a Fred Sandwich. All down the back stretch we were hammering Fred. We went three wide into turn three with buses scraping and rubber burning. It was intense!

Chris Rice ended up winning the race with Fred a close second and me third. We finished with a length of each other, I think. We got the thing on film and, when I figure out how to download it, I'll post it up on Facebook.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Kenny Renner

Kenny Renner passed away yesterday.

We always knew him as Uncle Kenny, even though we were not related. When my wife was in college she became acquainted with Lois, Kenny's sister-in-law. Tracy would often spend the weekend at Ben and Lois's home - weekends that often included family meals with bowls of steaming mashed potatoes and swiss steak made from venison. Kenny was always there with his quick wit and gentle spirit. When I married into the family, so to speak, I got to know Kenny, too.

For decades, Kenny cut hair in a shop on Farwell, Michigan's main street. His was the only place I was ever able to get a decent "flat-top" haircut. And though I wasn't in the neighborhood very often, I always made sure to stop in and get a trim when I was. His was exactly what you would expect of a Michigan barber shop. Pine siding on the walls. A stuffed "jackalope." A big mirror behind the barber chairs and Field and Stream next to a couple of seats where the next customer sat to wait his turn. (Or, just as often, someone who wandered in to shoot the breeze and left without ever getting a haircut.)

Kenny also ran one of the niftiest deer processing operations around. He and his family filled the garage with bucks every November. Deer were skinned in the garage and hung in a walk-in cooler before being tossed down a specially constructed chute into the basement where his sons, daughters and their various progeny worked at turning deer into "government beef." Kenny processed so many deer that he had to make sure to shoot his early on opening day - something he usually did.

It is appropriate that Kenny died on a Sunday, because Kenny is a Christian. As a pillar of the Farwell Church of Christ, Kenny and Jean were fixtures there every Sunday. These last several years have been hard for Kenny. With one health ailment after another, Kenny suffered in silence. Today he is free from all of that.

Psalm 116:15 says, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." None more precious than Kenny.

I'll see you in Heaven, brother. Do me a favor and start lining up good spots for my deer blind.

Kids say the darndest things . . .

A buddy of mine told me he was in a public restroom the other day. A father was in one of the stalls with his obviously young son. The son was chattering on about this and that. The father was becoming more and more impatient and said to his son, "Why don't you just take care of your business?"

"My what?"

"Your business, you know go to the bathroom."

The son replied with wonder in his voice, "You mean you're gonna pay me for this?!"

Friday, July 31, 2009

Thoughts on dying . . .

I remember the first time I saw someone die.

I was a twenty-one year-old newly married college kid working at E.W. Sparrow Hospital here in Lansing. The department I worked for was brimming with college students, most of them pre-med at Michigan State University. Because Sparrow is a teaching hospital, these spots were highly prized by my fellow employees who saw them as an opportunity to observe the inner workings of medicine up close.

It didn't take me very long to learn that the magic words that gained one entrance into nearly any situation in the hospital were, "May I observe?" Uttering this incantation would spirit you into nearly any room or procedure at the hospital that didn't require the maintaining of a sterile field.

One dreary night I was "floated" - that is loaned - to a short-staffed Emergency Room. Mostly I just cleaned up other people's messes and made sure the treatment rooms were well stocked. The night dragged on until a critical patient came through the doors. An elderly gentlemen, this guy was in trouble from the minute he rolled in. The paramedics were performing rolling CPR as he was hustled into the trauma room. There, the ER team took over and were soon assisted by the folks from respiratory therapy. Hearing the commotion, I dropped my mop and walked in. I looked straight at the physician running the code. When he caught my gaze I intoned, "May I observe?"

"Absolutely," was his reply, and then with a sweep of his foot he kicked a stepping stool over my way and said, "Stand up on this so you can get a good view."

I stepped up and watched in fascination as the team worked to restore life to the rapidly failing gentleman. What was most striking about this scene to me wasn't the speed with which the team worked, or the technology that was rapidly being deployed to save the gentleman. What struck me was the banter between caregivers. Interspersed with the instructions, questions, and responses of the code team was an amazing assortment of otherwise innocuous repartee.

"Whatta you have in mind for breakfast this morning?"

"I don't know."

"Did the pastry chef make anything good tonight?"

"I saw some pretty amazing looking bear claws."

"That's the last thing I need right now."

"Oatmeal again . . . "

I was staggered by their conversation. A man lay dying. Their hands were working to revive him, and yet their minds had already moved on to their next meal. I wanted to shout, "Hey, this guy is dying! Do something!"

Then, just as suddenly as the code began it was over. With a swift finality, the head physician looked up at the clock and said, "That's it folks; time of death - 5:24 A.M." Everyone stepped back, snapped off their latex gloves, dropped them on the floor and walked out. The two respiratory therapists were discussing the merits of oatmeal versus cold cereals on their way out the door.

I stood there, frozen to my stool, thinking, "There should be more. A man has just died, and there should be bells tolling, or soft music playing or something!" But there wasn't. There was just silence. One moment this man was alive. The next moment he was not.

I've been present at, literally, hundreds of deaths since then. Many of them physical, most of them spiritual.

I'll never forget the first time I saw a man die, but the death I most look forward to is the next one I will see - the next spiritual death that is. Paul wrote:
That's what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we're going in our new grace-sovereign country. (Romans 6:3-5, The Message)
One moment, a person is dead, the next moment, alive.

When I was baptized, my preacher - a tall gangly guy named Jim - said "Buried with Christ," as he dunked me in the stainless steel baptistery at the First Church of Christ. Then he paused, ever so slightly and, as he lifted me out of the water, "Raised to walk in newness of life."

New life. It is ironic that, in dying we find life. But then that is what Jesus is all about.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Helping Haiti - 3 cents at a time.

Our church is collecting change to send to Haiti. Here's the story. Larry Owens from Waves of Mercy Ministries was given 170,000 nutrition bars that had to be thrown out because they were part of a multi-pack that contained contaminated peanut butter bars. The bars he received are perfectly good, but they cannot be sold separately, so the mission was given them.

Now the mission is raising the funds to ship them to Haiti. It costs 3 cents to ship a bar. I've challenged our church to raise enough money to ship 100,000 bars - $3000. So far, we have collected about $500 of that. Can we go the whole way?

Here is an amazing video taken by Larry and Diana last fall after the hurricane devastated the island. These are some of the people that our 3 cents will be feeding.

If you can help, please send your contribution to South Lansing Christian Church, ATTN: Frank Weller; 6300 Aurelius Rd. Lansing, MI 48911. Put Haiti Bars in the memo line. Thank you!

Friday, July 10, 2009

A piece of my past

No, I wasn't "born in a barn." But growing up in rural DeKalb County, Indiana, I suppose it was inevitable that much of my young life would be spent in a barn. Our farm was one of the first settled in the county by one Arthur Heitz. His name was painted on the side of the barn - the side that faced the dirt road. I prayed they would pave that road so I could buy a skateboard, but to this day it remains a dusty gravel byway with washboards that have to be grated down a couple times a year.

In the barn, near the stable door, stood an old cast iron water hydrant. When we first moved to the farm we used the hydrant to draw water for the pigs. Eventually the water line cracked and we resorted to hoses. When we left the farm all those memories remained behind. Until a couple years ago.

I happened to stop in one afternoon to visit the family that lives there now and asked them if I could buy the hydrant. "No," replied the matriarch, "but you can have it." I borrowed Mike's reciprocal saw (the same one that was later stolen from my van - I still owe you for that one, Mike) and zipped it off the concrete.

Scott sandblasted and painted it. I plumbed it up, and Lee welded some bolts to the bottom so I could install it as a water feature in our Butler, Indiana backyard.

We brought the hydrant north with us to Michigan when we moved two years ago, but it wasn't until two nights ago that Jonah and I installed it at our Grand Ledge home.

I wasn't prepared for how that simple act made me feel. I felt at home - maybe for the first time since moving to this river town. I guess there is something really grounding about having a piece of my past so near me that is, likely, two or three times older than I am. Every time I leave the house I hear the water splashing. I see the galvanized steel bucket, gleaming below the spicket. I run my fingers across the cold cast iron. It ties me to my past.

Oh . . . the whole point of this post. Patti asked me to post a picture of the fountain on Facebook, but I was having trouble uploading it. The shot was taken at night, so it is tough to catch the whole effect. I'll put up another when it is daylight, Patti. And here's hoping that something from your past reminds you, as this bit of metal does for me, that you are blessed in the present and hopeful for the future.

Here it is during the day:

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Does Jesus Care?

More than a hundred years ago, composer and pastor Frank Graeff was in the midst of a trying personal crisis when he penned the words to the hymn, Does Jesus Care?

Does Jesus care when my heart is pained
Too deeply for mirth or song,
As the burdens press, and the cares distress
And the way grows weary and long?

Oh yes, He cares, I know He cares,
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.

Truth is, I think we have all wondered if Jesus cares at one time or another. Over the next three weeks, South Lansing Christian Church is going to explore that question. Does Jesus really care? Does he care when I am afraid? When I am tempted? When I am grieving?

In the darkest times of my life I have wondered. But time and again, Jesus has shown me that he is there, and he does care.

Friday, July 03, 2009

NACC: Day Four

Max Lucado wrapped up the 2009 North American Christian Convention earlier today. He preached from John 3:16. I think Max had the sermon memorized, but then he wrote the book on John 3:16 – literally.

Max has been accused by some in our brotherhood of churches for being a bit too Baptistic in his doctrine. (Perhaps rightly so.) That’s why I really appreciated what he said about baptism. He noted that some time ago someone pointed out to him a sentence he said each time he immersed someone into Christ. The phrase that worked its way, unnoticed, into his exercise of the sacrament: “You just bend your knees and I will do all the work.”

Without realizing it, he said that every time he baptized someone.

Frankly speaking, that is really good theology. In baptism we just bend our knees and God does all the work. Maybe Max isn’t as “padded” as some think.

One thing more . . . Mrs. Frankly and I are deeply grateful to the South Lansing Christian Church elders for making it possible for us to attend the NACC this year. While South has been facing some financial challenges, our elders – out of their generosity – suggested we attend and paid the way for us to do so.

We are deeply grateful and will not forget this kindness shown to us.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

NACC: Day Three

An all around great day, topped off by an incredible message from Matt Proctor. Matt spoke from 2 Timothy 2, encouraging us to persevere. Quoting from Remember the Titans, Proctor challenged us to repeat a liturgy:

Proctor: "Do you wanna' quit?"

Congregation: "No!"

"What do you want?"

"We want some more!"

I needed to hear that sermon. I need the encouragement, and am ready to wade back into ministry.

The night concluded with Casting Crowns in concert. One word: Wow!

More from McNeal

In his book, Missional Renaissance, Reggie McNeal details three views of the church:

  • The church as a place where things happen. This, in McNeal’s view, comes from the Reformation heritage. The church is a place where people where certain rites and sacraments are performed. It operates in predominantly Christian cultures. Adherents “go to church” listen to preaching and teaching, engage in worship and then leave.
  • The church as a “vendor of religious goods and services.” This view holds that churches exist in order to provide members with a range of services. Music that they like, opportunities for travel, sports leagues and fellowship are all services that the church provides. Naturally, the churches that do a more effective job of this are able to increase their “market share” within the Christian community.
  • The church as “a body of people sent on a mission.” With a carefully crafted mission statement, this church goes forth into the world to accomplish that which God has uniquely called them to do. We determine our mission and then ask God to bless it, though sometimes we might miss altogether what God wants us to do.
A fourth view, and the one that McNeal advocates is this: “The missional church believes it is God who is on a mission and that we are to join him in it . . . . Our job, then, is to do what the Baptist thinker Henry Blackaby often suggests: find out what God is doing and join him in it.”

Of the four, McNeal’s is the most challenging. The entrepreneur in me, educated in a culture of marketing-driven media, has learned how to “do church better than the Baptists.” Increasing membership by “transfer” has always been easier than going out into the highways and byways and compelling sinners to come to faith. Similarly, it is far easier to determine my course and then invite God along for the journey. That God might not want to purchase a ticket to where I am going either doesn’t occur to me or is, sadly, irrelevant in my way of thinking.

Far riskier, exceedingly more frightening is to perceive what God is doing and then join him in it. Do that and I might find myself leaving my nets to go and follow him (how will my family get along without me?). I might be called upon to take up the prophetic mantle and confront kings while my mentor rides a flaming chariot heavenward to his reward. People who join God in what he is doing have a high mortality rate.

Then again, dying is what I am called to do. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me,” wrote the Apostle Paul. He was dead long before he stood before Nero to discover his earthly fate. If I am living (dying) the way that Christ intends, then I will join him in whatever he is doing, wherever he is going. To do any other is hubris at best and treason at worst.

The more I read about the missional church, the more I begin to wonder . . . is there any other kind?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

NACC: Day Two

Day two at the North American Christian Convention ended with David Clark preaching on "Healing Grace." He talked about how each of us need to let God's Spirit minister to us in our pain. Tracy and I have been experiencing a measure of pain in recent days - not with each other - but with some of the bumps and bruises that sometimes come from ministry.

Tonight was a good reminder that God's grace can bring healing even when our hurts run deep, even when they are fresh and bleeding.

Later, after the main session concluded, Tracy and I attended an ice cream social sponsored by our Alma mater, Great Lakes Christian College. President Larry Carter reported that the college just completed its 15th year of operating "in the black." He also reported that the last two years have seen record enrollment at GLCC, and that applications are on pace to exceed last year's enrollment.

Larry completed his talk by saying that he was proud of us, the former students of Great Lakes. Here's the thing, Larry . . . we're proud of you, too. After ten years at the helm of GLCC, we are all proud that you're our President.

Tomorrow is day three . . . starting with Jeff Walling in the morning, and concluding with Casting Crowns at night. It looks to be the best yet.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

NACC: Day One

Enjoyed the first evening session of this year's North American Christian Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. Jeff Stone preached about grace tonight. Does grace still amaze us? It is a question worth considering. Jeff taught us that, if we value Gods grace it will fuel a lifestyle response of grace.

Makes me wonder . . .

Jeff mentioned Ephesians 4:32 - a verse that I preached on a few weeks back when we considered how we can defeat anger in our lives - "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."

I wonder . . . if God can forgive me for nailing his son to a cross, is there anything for which I cannot forgive my brother or sister? Doesn't seem I have much choice, really, does it? The Bible is even more explicit in my need for forgiveness. Jesus himself said in Mark 11:25, "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

Am I right in understanding that, if I don't forgive my brothers and sisters when they offend me that I risk losing the forgiveness of the Father?


And so, I need to be more forgiving. 'Cause the truth is, I've been forgiven much.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ten things I love about Grand Ledge . . .

  1. As you walk through the produce section at the Felpausch, from time to time you hear thunder. It happens just before the produce is automatically misted so you know to get out of the way and avoid the shower.
  2. At the Sun Theater when the $2 movie doesn't start quite on time and when the sound stops working part way through and they have to stop to re-thread the film, nobody freaks out.
  3. The blind man who stops at the Lickety Split ice cream stand and talks with you while you lick your ice cream really fast to keep it from melting down your arm on hot summer nights.
  4. When you're waiting in your car at the Saginaw Highway and Hartel Road stoplight with the windows down you can hear music playing from the grocery store parking lot speakers.
  5. When you show up to bring your son to the first practice for Grand Ledge Area Youth Football, there are literally hundreds of parents in lawn chairs watching their kids run through drills.
  6. Several times a year there is a parade that winds down bridge street and across the Grand River as American flags wave and Police officers and Fire fighters toss candy to children.
  7. On Friday nights in the fall the Comet Marching Band marches from the band room to the football field and the drum line plays "Grand Ledge Series 96." Then, when the band reaches the home bleachers, they break into the fight song as the band parents lean over the back of the bleachers to catch a glimpse of their kids.
  8. Grand Ledge is exactly half-way between South Lansing Christian Church and my best friend Fred and his wife Mariah's house.
  9. As I look out my kitchen window I see a groundhog walking from the neighbor's barn to the pond and hear the fountain splashing and the bullfrogs croaking.
  10. Buying Michigan sweet cherries at the Meijer and spitting the pits out as my son and I walk across the parking back lot to our subdivision.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tough questions

I've been really impressed with Reggie McNeal's The Present Future and by the tough questions that he has for the North American church:
  • Is the church the mission or the missionary?
  • Are we "doing" church at the clubhouse, or "being" the church in the world?
  • Are we measuring our effectiveness with "church culture yardsticks" like, "Was the sermon well received?" and "Are church programs staffed and operating with good customer satisfaction?" or do we measure our effectiveness by our impact beyond the church walls?
  • Who gets more applause in our church: people who fix food for special occasions or people who introduce people to Jesus?
  • Are we so busy getting people involved at the church that we've neglected the fundamental agenda of spiritual formation?
  • Is our growth occurring because we're the best "church game" in town or because we are impacting the lives of pre-Christians?
Like many established churches, South Lansing Christian Church finds itself asking tough questions like these. We are a church in transition.

Truth be told, we have been a church in transition for well over a decade. Like many congregations, South made significant transitions in the late 1990s and early part of the the new century. The church moved from a more traditional style of worship to one that is more contemporary. "Under performing" programs like Sunday night worship were pruned away. Small groups were introduced as an alternative to traditional Sunday School.

This new reality we are facing, the next-level of transition, is perhaps tougher than all of the previous challenges, however, because it confronts the core values on which we are based and not just the methodologies with which we operate. Rather than ask, "What sort of music most appeals to our members?" (a question pertaining to people in the church) this transitional period deals with much deeper issues. Issues like: Are we willing to change in order to reach unbelievers? Are we willing to scrap that which is our definition of "church," if need be, in order to become "all things to all people so that we might win some?"

This may be the most difficult transition that any church will face. Clearly it is the most important, in that it is not only a matter of our church's survival, but also a matter of our relevance to a Christ-less world.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Love this

I invested some time with a pre-married couple tonight. We talked about the nature of intimacy and passion and how the two are interrelated. Together we unpacked this passage of scripture that is paraphrased uniquely in The Message.
Corinthians 6:16-20
There's more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, "The two become one." Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never "become one." There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for "becoming one" with another. Or didn't you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don't you see that you can't live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.
I think this is some of what Rob Bell was writing about in SexGod. Its just cool, I think, that Paul said it first.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Hoping to get my pants back

A couple weeks back the family and I were hanging out at Fred and Mariah's when I was surprised to see my pants hanging on the back of the Lab's bathroom door. I say surprised - not so much because they were hanging in their bathroom, but because I had been looking for them for some time and couldn't recall where they were. When I saw them on the back of Fred's door, though, I remembered: Fred borrowed my sweat pants when he was at our house once and got his pants wet, though I can't recall exactly how.

I walked back out into Fred's living room and told him, "Hey my pants! I'm glad I found them; I'll take 'em home tonight." "Nope," replied Fred.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean you can't have them."

"But they're my pants. And they match my Chicago Cub pullover. That my wife bought for me for by 40th birthday."

Fred explained, "I'm not saying you can't have them ever. Just not now."


"Not until the NHL playoffs are over."

Ahhh. It was all becoming clear to me. Fred went on to explain that he was wearing my pants when the Red Wings won their first playoff game, and that they were now designated "lucky."

Now before I explain further, you need to understand that Fred is serious about hockey. Fanatical even. He has watched every Red Wing game this season. All of them. Including the pre-season. (115 total) What is more, he is deliberate - obsessive compulsive even - about his hockey watching habit. He records every game on DVR and watches them after his wife and children are in bed. So he won't be interrupted. In fact, if you try and call Fred on the phone on a "Red Wing night," he generally answers the phone, not with "Hello," but with, "I'm taping the game, don't tell me anything."

With playoff hockey, magnify that by a factor of, say, ten. You're lucky if he answers the phone at all, lest his DVR date be ruined by learning the game's outcome ahead of time. So serious is he about this that, when we were at the racetrack last Saturday and the track announcer said, "Red Wings fans, your score at . . . " Fred covered his ears with his hands and began shouting, "la la la la la la la la la," and literally ran out of the stands and headed for his truck. I'm not making that up.

Back to my pants. Apparently they have become part of a mojo ensemble. After the three Lab-lings are tucked into bed, Fred dons my pants, his white t-shirt (the one with the blue paint spots) and his Steve Yzerman jersey. He camps out in his leather lazy-boy and, with hockey stick in hand, watches the game. Don't even bother trying to call. He's in the zone.

Here's the thing I don't understand. Fred tapes the game, and the game is generally over when he watches it, so how helpful are my pants? I mean the game is over. So aren't my sweatpants' sorcery pretty much impotent at that point? I asked Freddo about this and his reply was simply, "Just let me live with my illusions." Okay. I can do that.


The Wings just lost
. I guess I'll have to wait until Friday night to get them back. Then again, with tonight's loss, maybe he'll decide the juju is all played out and finally wash them. And start answering his phone again.

Until Michigan football in September.

Thank God my sweatpants are blue and red and not blue and maize.

This guy makes sense . . .

I am reading The Present Future by Reggie McNeal. (I know, Mike, I am about six years behind the curve!) One paragraph that I read today really resonated with me. Here it is:
Part of the spiritual formation of followers of Jesus surely should involve helping them know how to introduce Jesus into conversations and be able to pass along pertinent insights to people who are being drawn to God. Because we have made evangelism a sales activity in the North American church, we have reduced how much of it goes on. In many cases, we're not peddling Jesus - we're peddling the church, with the assumption that if people will come to the church and convert to churchianity they will get Jesus. What they often get is a poor substitute. Evangelism that will introduce Jesus to this culture will flow from people who are deeply in love with Jesus. [author's emphasis] It has happened before - in the book of Acts. Their relationship with Jesus was what the early Christian community had to share with the world. They didn't have a Roman road, a New Testament, or any doctrinal treatises or "plan of salvation." They had Jesus. And people knew it. Their love for him turned the world upside down.
I grew up in a church where we learned "five finger salvation." Regrettably, we didn't learn to love Jesus quite as much. (That is no indictment on the church - that's just how things were done.) But then how is one taught to love Jesus? It happens, I think, when we see other people loving him and when we personally experience his love. Too often, though, my spiritual formation has centered around learning about Jesus and not as much in getting to know Jesus.

If McNeal is correct, and I'm pretty certain he is, then we need to recover the concept of helping people experience the love of Christ and thereby loving him back.

Frankly speaking . . . that is going to require me to rethink some things.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Heart Disease

I begin a new sermon series this coming Sunday. Honestly, it is a straight-up knock off of Andy Stanley's book, It Came From Within. Andy writes about four monsters that attack our hearts: guilt, anger, greed, and envy. More on that in later posts.

The upshot of the book, which I finished reading this morning about 1 AM, is this: we spend far more time adjusting our behavior that we we do tending to the heart. Odd, since it is the heart that is the source of our behavior. The heart doesn't so much reflect who I am, as it reveals who I am.

The book came at a good time for me, for it is an affirmation of something my spiritual coach, Dean, told me while back. He said that I need to reflect more. I need to pay more attention to the inner life. Andy Stanley agrees.

In fact, he lists several questions in his book that help us test the heart:
  • Is everything okay with my heart?
  • Am I mad at anybody?
  • Did anyone hurt my feelings today?
  • Did anyone break a promise to me today?
  • Am I worried about anything?
The answers to these questions can reveal if we have a monster lurking in the shadows.

These aren't the questions we usually ask, though. Truth is, we usually focus on our behavior.

Not convinced that you monitor behavior instead of your heart? When was the last time you asked your son or daughter, "Are you mad at anyone?" No? Me either. I ask things like, "Is your room clean?" or "Did you finish your homework?" I spotlight behavior and neglect teaching my kids to reflect. Why? Because that is what I learned to do.

There are other questions you can ask that will help you diagnose whether or not you have heart disease. These really require some boldness, though, because these are questions you ask the people closest to you. Try these on your husband or wife:
  • Do you feel I struggle with being completely open about things?
  • Do you feel like I have walls?
  • Do you ever feel like you're competing with my stuff?
  • Are you ever afraid to talk to me?
  • Do you ever wonder which one of me you're coming home to?
Did I mention these are tough?

I don't know if you're like me, but I am convinced that I need to focus more on my heart. When I do, I'm guessing my behavior will begin to change the way God desires. Or at least that is what I am hoping.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Frank's Tips for Surviving the Secretary of State

I took my middle child to the Secretary of State today to acquire his level one driver's license. (That's the BMV for my three Indiana readers). It was . . . exactly what you would expect. And since Frankly Speaking is such a helpful oriented blog (wink, wink), I thought I would pass along several useful tips for surviving your upcoming trip to purgator . . . er . . . the license branch, as we call it back home.
  1. Pack a lunch. And plenty of fluids. There is a reason that the acronym is "SOS." You might want to go as far as investing in a GPS transponder beacon in case your loved ones become concerned for your whereabouts. And they will. In fact, you might want to stop at Gander Mountain before your visit to see if there is something freeze dried or dehydrated just to be certain that it is edible after your long delay. The wise survivalist will pack additional food for his fellow travelers so that the freeze-dried ice cream you bring along can be traded for a higher place in the line.
  2. Bring documentation. All of it. That you've ever received. Because, when you step up to the counter and the bureaucrat on the other side asks you to identify yourself, smiling and responding, "I am me," isn't going to cut it. You're going to need your Social Security card, naturally. And your birth certificate - the original one with the raised seal. You're also going to want something official with your address on it. A water bill; a title to your vehicle. If, however, you are like my son and have not lived long enough to establish that you are who you are, you might also want to bring along the scrapbook that your mother made for you. Locks or hair, your first lost tooth, the tubes that you had in your ears at one point - each of these contain traces of DNA that can be used to establish your identity. A report card works, if it has your address on it. But you might also want to bring along your teacher(s), and other relatives that can tell helpful anecdotes about the time when you were four years old and urinated on the front lawn in full view of the ladies bridge club across the street.
  3. Ask a computer guru to accompany you. Your service specialist is probably going to have to input your data at least once or, as in my case today, four times, before calling tech support for assistance. If at all possible, just bring Bill Gates with you to the branch. Or Steve Jobs. Oh wait . . . if the State used Apple they wouldn't need tech support.
  4. Make a game of it. This can make all the difference between sanity and . . . well, insanity. Begin a pool with your fellow masochists. Everyone throws in a buck to bet which employee is going to be serving you. Will it be the girl that looks like she graduated high school twelve minutes ago? The frustrated former middle management executive from GM? Really want to have fun? Stop at the bakery beforehand and snatch a random "now serving" number. When you arrive at the SOS, wait several minutes and then loudly ask, "Wait a minute! Did I miss my number? I've got 83 here!" Of course, that only works if they're nowhere near 83, but you can figure out that part of it.
  5. Make a buck. Make sure you take two numbers (you'll have to do this on the sly). Wait thirty minutes and then very quietly auction off the extra number. You're going to have to be subtle about this, however, as someone is likely to rip the pen and chain off the counter and either use the chain to strangle you or the pen to shiv you (or both).
With enough creativity, planning and patience (and a prescription for Valium), your trip to the Secretary of State doesn't have to be a mind-numbing, exercise in frustration.

NOTE TO "THAT READER": It is called humor. The views expressed in this column were intended to be satirical in nature and are not intended to reflect anger, frustration, perspiration or indigestion. Thank you, have a nice day.

Monday, May 18, 2009

If anyone aspires to be an elder . . .

I enjoyed visiting with Jim in my office earlier today. In the course of our time together, he asked how much our church's elders were paid. He was really surprised when I told him that they are all volunteers. I can understand why.

I've known some great elders in my time as a preacher, and they all desrved to be paid. Ray S. cared enough to confront me when I was still wet behind the ears. Ron R. was like an uncle to me when we lived in Kokomo. Terry U. is the most biblically literate elder I've ever known. Mike K. is the first elder I've ever been able to call a "friend who sticks closer than a brother."

It's not enough to say that these men all deserved to be paid, either. Fact is, you couldn't pay them enough for a lot of what they do. My dad was an elder, and I watched him experience the joys and the heartache of serving in that role. There were times when serving was an almost unbearable burden. Just the other day we talked about one particularly difficult congregational meeting when he was on the hot seat for making what was, at the time, a difficult leadership decision. Twenty-five years removed, the pain is so real that it is still hard for him to talk about it. Fact is, every elder I've ever known has had similar experiences.

An hour or so after Jim asked me how big our "elder payroll" is, South's elders met for their monthly meeting. It was a good one. I really appreciated the input the guys have in our ministry. They all bring different gifts to the table, and God seems to give them the right thing to say at the right time.

Mike V. keeps his eye on the bottom line. I really love that he has a heart for ministry and that he does all he can to make our financial resources go as far as they can. Without him and his team keeping an eye on the books, we'd be in tall grass. He has a heart for seeing people become all that God has called them to be - including me.

Dick has a dry, but great sense of humor. He usually sits quietly by, but when he speaks he asks the right questions, and can break down an issue so that it is manageable. Tonight he took a complex issue and framed it in a way that made it seem less intimidating.

Terry S. is an encourager. He is the most extroverted and gregarious elder with whom I have ever served. Terry stops by my office to pray with me every Sunday morning. He encourages the whole staff that way. His vocabulary is filled with superlatives, which he dishes them out liberally (and means every word).

Mike B. is kind. And steady. And sure. If Mike says he is going to do something, I can count on him doing it. He keeps track of all the new members at South and makes sure that each of them receives a visit in their home from the elders. He will tell you that Mr. Palmer (or maybe Doc Doty) was "Mr. South." But for me, that person is Mike.

Chris is so insightful. He asks probing questions that cause the staff to reflect on on their spiritual condition. How are we with God? What is robbing our joy? Are we being true to our staff covenant. Chris is always looking for "the vision" thing, but he is careful to make sure that we don't get so focused on the big picture that we neglect our own spiritual condition.

Joe is the newest of our elders. His heart for families is evident and he leads by example with his own. His priorities are clear: God, family, ministry, work - in that order. He, too, is quiet by comparison. And that gives his words, when he speaks, even more weight.

Terry R. is a servant. When he retired from GM earlier this year, he devoted his time to custodial work at South. But he doesn't "neglect the ministry of the word and prayer" to sweep floors. Terry was instrumental in leading a couple to Christ just this last week. He is so grounded and understands that the best ministry is done in relationship.

Tom has been a personal encouragement to me, too. In a lot of ways, he has a no nonsense approach to life, and yet when he ministers to people he does so with an obvious grace and mercy.

Every one of these men is amazing.

There will be, no doubt, a cynic or two that will read this and suggest that I am currying favor with the men who are my overseers. So be it. But credit is due where credit is deserved, and these men deserve credit for their service. That's not why they do it, of course. (They might even get a little bit ruffled at the idea of me writing this.)

Bill Hybels made a statement a while back that stuck with me. (I quoted a portion of it in my last post, actually.) He wrote, "The local church is the hope of the world, and its future rests primarily in the hands of its leaders."

If he is right, and I think he is, that means South Lansing Christian Church has a great future ahead.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Life, death, eternal life and other truly important events . . .

Yesterday was one of those days that alternates between heartache and joy. A day when a preacher feels both incredible helplessness and incredible hope.

The day began when I met a physician that has a vision for a free health care clinic in an under-served area of Lansing. Her grant proposal was well written. She has over $100,000 in in-kind donations. She needs another $200,000 to get her project off the ground. I don't think there is anything our church can do. Helpless . . .

Talked with a guy who is really struggling in his marriage right after that. He and his wife are nearing the seven-year mark, and the frustration is palpable. We've talked before. Sometimes they do well together; sometimes they don't. I believe they have all the resources they need for a God-honoring marriage. And yet I often feel pretty helpless to move them in that direction.

I spent three hours preparing a funeral sermon for a nine-day-old baby boy. The apparent contradiction between God's omnipotence His goodness was hammering in my ears the whole time. So I decided to acknowledge it. There are some times when "that don't make no sense" as Delmar's friend Pete likes to say; times when God seems asleep at the switch. God is big enough for us to admit our doubts, I think, but as I contemplated how to bring hope to this boy's family, I felt pretty hopeless.

I delivered that funeral sermon shortly after that, but not before I stood beside mom and dad as they peered into the bassinet at their little boy. He was exquisite - just like one of those "real life" baby dolls that you buy your daughter so she can feel all grown up when she plays mommy. There were lots of tears. And through the sobbing I felt pretty helpless.

At the funeral dinner that followed everyone was very complimentary. They said my words brought comfort and healing. In spite of the brutal events of the day there was laughter and joy. (Being a Christian makes all the difference at times like these!) As evening came, the sun finally began to shine.

The day concluded with me immersing two folks into Christ. What a huge blessing that was! Tom and Nancy were befriended by a group of folks from our church that camp together and cruise together and, well, they do just about everything together. It seems they also share the gospel together, too, because Tom and Nancy went public with their faith in Jesus last night. Afterward, their friends gave them a beautiful Bible. Nancy was overheard to say, "This is the first Bible we've ever owned." Amazing.

That is how the church works. This organic, living, breathing thing that is the hands of Christ and the hope of the world. Bringing comfort to people that are hurting; bringing Christ to people that are hopeless. The local church is the hope of the world. And in a day when this preacher felt pretty helpless, the church was a source of great hope for me, too.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Romans 8:28, painfully real

Terry called me this morning. “Frank, I need you to come to the hospital. Gene and Amy are here. Their two-week-old son, Landon, passed away this morning.”

When Amy fed Landon at 3 AM she could tell something wasn’t right. Then he stopped breathing. They laid him on the floor and Greg began CPR while Amy called 911. Gene prayed and breathed for his little man, but by the time the paramedics arrived, Landon still had not come around. And he never did.

As I showered and dressed to go to the hospital I couldn’t help but think of the verse I am supposed to preach tomorrow morning: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Really? Was that what I was supposed to tell Gene and Amy? "Hey, guys, God is going to bring something good out of this." Was that going to be any comfort for their 6-year-old son, Anthony, who just wants to know where his baby brother went?

Was God working all things for the good when the detectives interviewed Gene and Amy separately to determine if their stories matched? Was God working all things for good when Gene and Amy arrived home from the hospital to find two police cars sitting outside to secure what might potentially be a crime scene? When Amy was asked to “re-enact” what took place with a baby doll – how did God work that for good?

Following their routine investigation, the police determined that there was no foul play, but that is small comfort for Gene and Amy because Landon is still dead. Though the police have their questions answered, their family is left with a singular unanswered question: “why?”

I have some answers to that question, but they are all theological. They minister to the head, but leave the heart wanting. And when that happens – at times like this – it takes great faith to believe this verse, to claim it as one’s own, to believe that God can see the whole movie and not just the frame or two that is our existence.

And that may be, at least in the near term, the only good that can come of something this painful.

Monday, May 04, 2009

One Friday Night: Police, Prom and Parenting

Last Friday I watched Abby get all dolled up for the Everett High School Prom. She and her friends from South's youth group all went together and, even though she attends Grand Ledge High School, they fixed her up with a guy from Everett so she could hang with them. Tyler was the young man's name, and he seemed nice enough.

Even though I just met Tyler, I wasn't worried about him. As I said, he seemed nice enough, and besides, Abby had just completed a Lansing Police Department self-defense course. She had already spent some time showing her brothers and I her new moves. For her final exam, in fact, she defended herself against LPD Chief of Police Mark Alley. He suited up in a specially padded outfit and attacked her, and she kneed him in the groin and punched him into submission. Frankly, I don't want to mess with that girl.

Still, one doesn't just send his daughter into the night without a reservation or two. So I put on my bullet proof vest and chaplain's uniform and went for a ride along with LPD Sergeant Emmons. I reasoned that, if there was a problem, I would be able to get anywhere in the city rather rapidly, and would have unparallelled communications.

The night was interesting, to say the least. We began with bar checks. We drifted in and out of several downtown bars. The Cadillac Club was slow. Things were dead at The Firm. Across the street, though, at Club X-Cel the place was jumping. The Sergeant and I found ourselves surrounded by a passel of drunk co-eds who wanted to dance with a cop in uniform. I shot the Sergeant a get-me-out-of-here look and he plowed a path to the door. He found the whole thing pretty amusing.

We checked out the bars in Old Town - including my first (and probably last) gay bar. Frankly, it was the coolest spot I was in all night. The owner is a gifted artist who personally made all the artwork and furnishings. We checked out some city parks, too, including the fish ladder where the salmon will soon be leaping their way upstream to spawn.

As we were headed to Rum Runners to check it out we received a call about a shooting on the North side of town. We raced across town with lights and sirens and arrived in fairly short order. As we turned the corner, the first thing I saw was a girl in a prom dress. My heart skipped a bit as the dad in me wondered . . . Abby had no reason to be in this neighborhood. In fact, I knew she had planned to be in Ovid by this time, but still, I couldn't help but be a bit concerned.

When we pulled up, the victim was being loaded into an car by several friends to be taken to the hospital. The police delayed them until paramedics could arrive, which they did moments later. From that point on, the whole situation seemed like something out of a movie. Police canvassed the neighborhood and interviewed neighbors. They questioned a group of partiers that were near where the shooting occurred. They looked for evidence.

After the scene was secured, the Sergeant and I headed to the hospital. I was able to pray with the victim's family in the waiting room. As of this morning, I am uncertain how the victim is recovering. We continue to pray.

For the first time since moving to Lansing, I experienced the reality that this is a city. I have known that, of course, but Friday night I saw it up close and first hand. It is eclectic and alive. We are a multicultural, energetic place filled with life and excitement. We're not a utopian community, to be sure - did I mention we stopped a man with crack cocaine in his pocket Friday night - but Lansing is, relatively speaking, a very safe community. The murder rate here, for example, is less than in Ft. Wayne, Indiana - the nearest large city to where I used to live.

Still, that is little consolation for a dad who watches his first born spread her wings and begin to live more independently.

It is, all in all, a lesson in trust. Trust in my daughter. Trust in her judgement. Trust in our community. And trust in God. For that part - the part that is teaching me to trust - I give thanks. The rest of it, I'll just endure.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Reflecting . . .

Some have mentioned the recent dearth of Frankly Speaking posts. The reason for the sudden slim output? Simply this: I am trying to spend a little less time expressing and a little more time reflecting.

About two weeks ago I was blindsided. I had hurt a friend pretty significantly without realizing it. The wound festered and caused great pain. I was at fault, and that is a problem. The bigger problem, for me though, was that I was so unaware that I had done anything. When all this came to light, my spiritual formation coach, Dean, challenged me to spend a little more time trying to be aware of my surroundings and more self-aware.

Through this process, painful as it has been at times, I think I am beginning to understand more of the person God wants me to be. The irony of it is inescapable. I came to South Lansing Christian Church convinced that God wanted to work through me to bless this congregation. While I am still convinced that God is going to use me, I am becoming more and more convinced that God's greater purpose for my life, right now, is to do to me before he does anything through me. It would seem that God is still at work developing my character. In fact, that might have been God's plan all along in calling me to South.

Throughout this season of reflection, I have been challenged to think through a number of questions. Some of them include:
  • What is significant about what God taught me yesterday?
  • How did God specifically answer my prayers?
  • What happened in spiritual warfare?
  • Is there any time where I chose not to listen well to God or to others?
  • Was there any time when I spoke too quickly or when I spoke and God desired my silence?
  • Was there any time when I displayed anger that offended and, if so, what "right" did I choose not to surrender to God?
Anyway, that is probably more than you wanted to know or maybe even care about. But it does explain the recent lack of blog postings. I'm not going away, just being a little more silent for a bit while God goes to work on my character.