Thursday, August 27, 2009

What's the most beautiful thing you've seen this week?

N. T. Wright asks in one of his books, “What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve seen this week?” He suggests a few things, “beautiful music – perhaps in church . . . the sun breaking through the mist . . . the curl of a squirrel’s tail as he sat nibbling a nut.” He even points to the possibility of the most beautiful thing you’ve seen this week being an experience like an unexpected new opportunity or the blossoming of a new relationship.

Life is full of beauty, if we’ll train our eyes to see it. A couple of years ago, the Washington post ran an experiment in Washington D.C. They had Joshua Bell, a leading violinist, station himself in a Metro station and play the violin for passersby. Not just any violin, but a $3 million Stradivarius. Most of the thousands of people who entered the Metro that day walked right by taking no notice of this casually dressed man who, unbeknownst to them, had played to a sold out Boston Symphony Hall just three days prior. There the minimum tickets went for $100. Here in the subway, only a handful stopped and listened to the beauty in their midst.

One of the most basic acts of faith you and I can practice every day is the practice of noticing. For how shall we ever give thanks if we don’t first take time to stop and notice the endless gifts God grants us each day? The quiet of a morning. The smile of a stranger. The comfort of a nap. Getting in the habit of noticing opens our eyes to the many ways God is at work around us. It also prepares us for the possible places God might invite us as well. For when’s the last time you saw the kid behind the fast food counter for who he truly is, someone made in the very image of God? Not someone to be ignored but someone to be celebrated as a truly remarkable work of God’s hand? I know I spend most of my life walking right by. Lord, help me be a person who notices.

By the way, the most beautiful thing I’ve seen this week – not a sight but a sound. The sound of courage. As I dropped Sophie off on her third day of Kindergarten I said to her as we pulled into the circle drive at the school, “Alright, here we are.” I heard her take a deep breath, as if she was attempting to suck in all the boldness she could muster, and then say, “Alright, here I go.” And with that, she jumped out of the car and headed off to class.

So, what’s the most beautiful thing you’ve seen this week?

God has made everything beautiful its time – Ecclesiastes 3:11

Thursday, August 20, 2009

My how time flies

This next week is a big week in the Sandlin household. Sophie starts kindergarten. It’s a cliché to say, “My how the time flies” but most clichés become repeated for a reason. These first five years have flown by. There’s joy, without a doubt. Especially on Sophie’s part. Life still feels abundant to a five year old. No looking back. As she starts this first day of school, she can in no way see the end of that journey. Graduation from high school might as well be a thousand years away. But the rest of us know better. We know that time has a way of slipping through our fingers.
That knowledge, which is a gift given to those who are able to look back over a few decades, causes milestones to be marked by both joy and sadness. Joy over how far we’ve come. Sadness over the fact that we know we shall not pass that way again. If we’re not careful that sadness can turn into despair. For as time flies, it takes with it our strength, our energy, and many of our unfinished plans. Even King David, with all his previous days of vigor and vitality, could not prevent the day from coming when he would lay shivering beneath the covers, frail and aged, awaiting his departure from this world. That image is enough to depress the best of us. With this inevitable end in mind, we realize that every joyful milestone is also one more step towards that final milestone, and that knowledge tempts us to wallow in some form of perverted nostalgia.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that the last marker of this life isn’t the final marker on our road. In fact, the truth we proclaim as Christians is that in death we’ve just reached the end of the on-ramp onto a far greater road. C.S. Lewis described that road in his Narnia books as one that will lead us forever “further in and further up.” My guess is that the greater reality of our last day here on this earth will be much more like Sophie’s first day of kindergarten than we realize. While there will no doubt be a little fear of the unknown, by the end of the day there will be no thought of looking back. There will simply be too much in front of our eyes that thrills our souls.

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever - Psalm 23:6.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

(Be)Coming Clean

The story is told of a young entrepreneur who had just opened his own office and was eager to impress everyone. So when the first visitor appeared at his door, he picked up the phone and began to fake an important conversation: "No, you tell him we won't sign the contract for less than a million! I won't hear of anything less. If he has any trouble with that, I've got a dozen top corporations lined up to pay us what we're worth! Got that?"

He hung up and smiled at his visitor: "What can I do for you?"

Sheepishly, the man at the door answered, "Um.... I'm here to connect the phone."

“Caught red handed,” we might say. While we don't wish such embarrassment upon anyone, most of us can sympathize with the man's predicament. There’s not a one of us who hasn’t at one time or another been “caught” in a sin. We've been caught in lies, caught cheating, caught looking where we shouldn't look. If we were somehow forced to make public confession of our many sins in the comment section below, our embarrassment would certainly far exceed that of this eager young man. I know I’d be embarrassed. Who wouldn’t be?

Fortunately for all of us, God isn’t in the business of embarrassing us. He is, however, in the business of redeeming us. And part of redeeming us is dealing with our sins. Now ultimately, our sins have been dealt with, once and for all by Jesus on the cross. The debt has been paid. That’s what grace is all about. No longer is there any need for us to attempt to finagle ourselves into right relationship with God. The other part of dealing with our sins, however, belongs to us. We must confess to God what we have done (or not done). This is the way in which we receive God's forgiveness. To put it simply, we must come clean so that he can make us clean.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness - 1 John 1:7.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The blessedness of rest, the danger of sloth

After a very busy summer, Alyson, the kids, and I enjoyed a weekend at Lake Granbury with no phone, no television, and no internet. Unplugged from all the gadgets that steal minutes from our day, we did things slowly. We skipped rocks. We dug for clams. We worked a thousand piece puzzle. We sat on the dock and fished without catching any fish. We rested. And it was good.

I admit such slowness doesn’t come easily for me. As I’m sure is the case for you, too, there is always something else to do on my to-do list. When tempted to skip out on moments of rest, on Sabbaths for the soul, I remember the story that’s told of a old preacher who upon coming back from a day off was met by a crusty parishioner who sarcastically noted, “The devil never takes a day off.”

Without missing a beat, the wise old preacher responded, “That’s probably what turned him into a devil.”

In attempting to work till we drop, who are we attempting to imitate? Obviously, not God. From the very first chapter of the Bible, God models for us the holiness of rest. We need rest in our lives. It is God ordained. And if you’re too busy to rest and find time to just be still in God’s presence, you’re as Alister McGrath puts it, “busier than God ever intended you to be.”

Of course, God wants us to both rest and work. Each has its proper place in our lives. All work and no play may make Jack a dull boy, but all play will make him even duller. God’s command to rest is not a call to laziness or sloth. Such overindulgence can lead to a dulling of the spirit as readily as being a workaholic. And a dull spirit is wide open to the temptations of the flesh. After all, this week’s sermon text, which reports the most notorious sin in the Bible outside of Genesis 3, begins with the often overlooked phrase, “Late one afternoon, David got up from a nap. . . ”

So let us work and let us rest. Let us do both for the glory of God.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. – 1 Corinthians 10:31