Tuesday, February 17, 2009

News Radio and God

'Twas a dark evening. Chilly to the point of being cold. The car heater was taking its time transforming the inside of my car from winter to summer. I punched the button to turn the stereo on. KMOX from St. Lois came loud and clear through the speakers. Nothing there caught my attention. I punched the next three buttons with similar results. I punched the fourth button. There was a little static in the background but it was overshadowed by the voices in the foreground. I was tuned to "News Radio SSSSSSeventy Eight" in Chicago.


That's about 275 miles as the crow flies. I was getting the traffic report on the Kennedy Expressway. It wasn't pretty. And yet it was fascinating. Call me weird but I've always gotten a bit of a kick out of listening to live radio from far away stations. Just knowing that those voices are traveling through towns, over highways and rail road tracks, across lakes ... it's cool. Way out there is a guy or a girl sitting in a nicely appointed, warm studio, talking into a wired microphone. Is it snowing there? Is it colder than it is here? Does he have a pizza sitting on the console in front of him? It's just ... interesting.

I punched the next button. There was more static this time but the voices were clear and audible. That would be WTAM News Radio broadcasting from downtown Cleveland, Ohio. It was my hometown "talk radio station" for about a year and a quarter. I didn't really like it but it was local and it told me when the traffic was screwy. So it earned a programmed spot on button #6. Tonight I listened to my favorite Cleveland weather person, Betsy Kling, tell me to watch out if I "live on the Lake because old man Erie is throwing some snow our way." I appreciated the tip. I might be 600 miles away but that doesn't mean I don't have to worry about lake effect snow.

Oh, wait. Yes it does. It means exactly that. But I digress.

One cold winters night in late 2007 I was driving home from some non-memorable restaurant and I turned on the radio. I hit "seek" in order to find something worth listening to in my new hometown. I quickly came across some guy speaking french. At first I was amazed at the power of those Paris radio stations. Then I realized that Canada was only 31 miles off shore. It turned out the station was in Montreal or Toronto or some place that I think probably houses men with pointy mustaches wearing berets and women who drink great wine and ride bicycles to the store to pick up bread. I think I've watched too many movies.

I sat at my desk today and thought about God. I opened my bible and read the entire book of Zephaniah. Don't be impressed. It's only 3 chapters long. But as I read it God kept pointing things out to me. Things about His fathomless love. Things about His certain judgement. Things about the depths of His care for His children. Things about what happens to people who reject Him. As I listened I knew that God was speaking to me. He was encouraging me to walk straight toward Him. Do not waver. Do not stray off the path He had laid out for me. Sometimes when God speaks it is as though there is static all around me. He can be hard to hear. Sometimes His voice rings through very clearly. Sometimes it feels as though He is a million miles away. Sometimes it feels as though I am sitting on His lap. But always ... always ... when I hear His voice, I learn. Sometimes it is about difficult traffic that is all around me. Sometimes it is about the cold and frozen conditions that plague my attempt to stay near the warmth of His fire. Sometimes I have to "turn the dial" in order to find Him. He might speak through Zephaniah. He might speak through another book in the bible. Sometimes He speaks through a friend, a circumstance, a dream, the voice of my wife, or the still and quiet voice of His Spirit. But when He speaks it is obvious that it is Him.

Radio's and God. I never realized that they had so much in common. Both are always available. Both always want your attention. Both always require that you tune your ears and/or heart. But only one, the voice of God, will speak words of eternal love and eternal life.

Is it dark tonight? Are you cold? Is your personal space full of "static?" Do not be deceived. The voices are there waiting to be heard. Be careful what you tune your soul in to. You might simply hear french women on bicycles seeking bread. Or you might hear the voice of God seeking to save that which is lost ....

Monday, February 16, 2009

God is BIG and I play on His team.

We serve a really strange God. Strange in that He is not at all like us. Strange like "Wow!" Not strange like "weird." Sometimes it's a blow-out in the baptistry waders. Sometimes it's a little more serious. Sometimes He needs you to be in a particular place and He will go to great lengths to make it happen.

I went with debbie to her pulmonologist appointment today. You know, the lung doctor. Asthma has been beating her up lately. So she got checked out, got some new meds to help her over the hump, and then we moved on. First we visited with a family from our church who had a family member in surgery for a very serious work-related burn. The surgery went well, we prayed with them, and took our leave. I tried to visit a family having a baby in that hospital but I could not find them. And then I made a phone call to see if I could visit another woman in another hospital but she was going to be taking tests all afternoon. So those two things were not going to work. And so we made our way to Clayton. A friend of ours from Nashville was in town after having completed a speaking engagement. We were to pick her up at her daughters house and go grab a bite to eat together. On the way there I noticed a "joint" alongside the road named "Carl's Deli." Looked interesting. I made a mental note of it. We grabbed Sandy and agreed that Carls would cook our lunch. So I punched it into "Sophie the GPS" and off we went. I was in the middle of the worlds best pastrami sandwich when my "not-an-iphone" rang. It was my brother-in-law, Jim. I stepped outside to take the call. I was leaning against the glass window of Carls, looking inside at the people eating as he told me that he was admitting his wife, my sister-in-law, to St. Mary's hospital at that very moment. He wondered if we could come by. He ... they ... were having a very, very hard day. Alisha was in a lot of pain and Jim was hurting with her and frustrated by other events of life that he had been dealing with.

As he spoke I ran a mental list of hospitals through my brain. I knew I had been to St. Mary's before but not often and it had been years. Then I realized that it was in Clayton. I asked Jim if that was right and he confirmed that it was. I told him that we were in Clayton and that I was pretty certain that we were close. As I spoke I slowly turned to face the street. Cars and busses whizzed by. As they parted I focused on the sign across the street. The sign naming the building behind it. The building close enough for me to hit with a baseball. The building named ... "St. Mary's Hospital."

I didn't know what time Debbie's doctors appointment would end.

I didn't know that I would only be able to visit one of three people in local hospitals.

I didn't know my friend, Sandy, was still going to be in town today until she emailed me this morning.

I didn't know I was going to find time to pick her up and take her to lunch.

I didn't know Carl's Deli existed.

I didn't know Alisha was not well.

I didn't know Jim was going to call.

And yet all of those things fell perfectly into line at exactly the right moment to allow my "not an iphone" to ring as I ate my sandwich literally yards from the building where Debbie and I would be needed.

God is strange. God is big. And I am very, very glad He has allowed me to be on His team.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Blow-out of Epic Proportions

I think that what I like best about being a pastor is the dignity ... the honor ... the never ending respect the position offers. Take this weekend for example.

Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity of performing the marriage ceremony for a lovely young couple, Christie and Nick. Nick recently became a Christian. He is in the air force. He leaves for Afghanistan this week. And so he decided to marry his very-worthy sweet heart before he left. Yesterday ... Valentines Day ... was the appointed moment. It was a very small and very fun wedding! And this morning I had the privilege of baptizing them both. That's how we were kicking-off the worship service. And then I was going to speak on the scripture from Acts, "In Him we live and move and have our being." In order to illustrate the point I went to Wal-Mart and bought six gold fish last night. You see, gold fish live and move and have their being in water. I thought that the parallels were obvious. The gold fish were twelve cents each. Well, we all know how these particular water creatures are famous for expiring early. That's why I purchased six. I was hoping that at least one would make it until morning. When I woke up today five were still swimming. By the time I arrived at Towerview four were still with us. I was getting worried. I placed them on a roman-esque pillar next to the acrylic pulpit in the worship center and went to prepare for Nick and Christy's baptism.

I wore a suit this morning and so I took the coat off, kicked off my shoes, removed my cell phone from my belt, and dropped my watch in my coat pocket. I picked-up the fishing waders that we pastor types use to keep us dry so that we can get back into the worship center quickly. They were tough to get on. Really tough. It had been a while since they had baptized anybody at Towerview. The feet didn't want to bend. Odd. But I managed. I put on the white baptismal robe, prayed with Nick, and it was time to Rock 'N Roll.

I stepped into the water. No problem. I took another step down. Hmmmm. Water immediately soaked the sock on my left foot. This did not bode well. By the time I made it all of the way into the baptistery I felt water up to my calf. When Nick and Christie arrived at my side I was wet up to my knees. The inflow showed no sign of slowing down. I baptized Nick first. This airman is a big guy! He's all beef. Not an ounce of fat on him. He's in "one of those" units. A couple of fly boys in the church told me that he knew 20 ways to kill me. Well, yeah. I don't doubt that. But let's remember that it was THIS little preacher boy that pinned him under water.


And then I baptized his new bride, Christie. She's a petite little thing and as sweet as St. Louis style Gooey Butter Cake. (Christie, that's a good thing, if you are reading this! Tell Nick not to get mad ....) But the point of concern was that by the time I brought her up out of the water I was nearly as wet as she was. And the reason was obvious. One entire foot of the waders was flopping back and forth, held on by one little piece of rubberized cloth. I was soaked from toes to belly button.

You know, when you baptize a person they just bounce up and virtually trot up the steps to waiting towels. But when you are wearing the waders and they are full of water? Well, it's one step ... wait for the drain ... one step ... wait for the drain. You get the picture? By the time I got to the top I was pretty much drenched. I asked for a towel and they gave me all they had. Two paper towels. That wasn't quite what I had in mind.

So at this point I did what any pastor worth his Sunday School Diploma would do. I entered the worship center. Dripping water with every step. Shoeless. A shorted-out lapel microphone in my pocket. Hey, my dignity was never worth too much anyway. As I approached the pulpit I looked down at my gold fish and it occurred to me. It is in the water that they live and move and have their being. And for this one morning ... the same was true of me. I WAS the sermon illustration! That's when I heard it. Laughter. From the throne. It was coming from The Great Laugher of Laughs. I can't help believing that the Father was elbowing The One who sits at His Right Hand. I can almost hear Him say, "Hey. Watch this. Belleville. Towerview. The worship center. This is gonna be so cool!"

The laughter must have rolled. And yea ... I had to join in.