Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas and Mr. Shoe Doctor

This is by John Coleman.  He is a friend from college and law school. He left the practice of law to go to seminary and was the rector at Ascension Episcopal in Montgomery.

I wasn’t sure where the conversation was going, or if it would be a conversation at all.  I went to get my car washed.  As I was waiting, a man, whose apron identified him as Mr. Shoe Doctor asked if I would like to get my shoes shined.  I sat down at his stand and the revelation started.

He would call out a day of the week and then take a rag and slap it against my shoe.  “Monday.  WHAP!  Tuesday. WHAP!  Wednesday.  WHAP!”  I suppose this is routine, at least the part about the rag, when getting your shoes shined, but this moment seemed anything but routine.  I could tell by the cadence of his voice that he was about to tell me something.   It was barely more than a whisper, spoken to the air more than me, but it was building in intensity.  He went on, “Thursday.  WHAP!  Friday.  WHAP!  Saturday.  WHAP!  Sunday.  WHAP!”

 And then he paused and said, “Everyday.”

 “Everyday?”  I asked, thinking after all that there was surely something more.

 “Everyday!”  He said.

 I decided to push a little.  “Everyday, what?”

 “Everyday is holy.  Each day is a day to tell about the Lord.  That’s the business I’m in and business is good.”

I discovered that Mr. Shoe Doctor (I asked him his name and he just pointed to the apron) had shined shoes in many places.  He liked to talk about Chicago’s O’Hare airport, so I figured he served there the longest.  He told me about his life.  How he had lost a son and moved back to the area to take care of his mother.  He got excited when he talked about being diagnosed several years ago with cancer and how God had given him his life on this earth back through treatment and remission.  Each story was peppered with talk about Jesus, Holy Scripture and faith.  He said God had been so good to him that he had to tell it, and tell it he did.

I’ve been thinking about my feet ever since the encounter with the Shoe Doctor.  Feet probably aren’t what most contemplate during the holidays, but, the more I think about it, the more it seems fitting.  After all our feet, literally and figuratively, carry us into the season and beyond to tell about what God has done.  The familiar hymn instructs us to “go tell it on the mountain” that salvation was born on Christmas morning.  “How beautiful on the mountains” the prophet Isaiah tells us “are the feet of those who bring good news.”  (Isaiah 52:7).

I sometimes wonder if my feet really carry me to the places in this world that need to hear the good news.  Of course, I join with the world to shout it during Advent and Christmas, but when the tree is by the curb, the children are back in school and everything returns to “normal” where do my feet carry me?  Do I really look for the opportunities God gives me to “tell it?”

The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary with the announcement that she would conceive and bear a son.  After a moment of questioning and doubt her response was resolute. "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."  (Luke 1:38).

This “Yes” to God took Mary on a journey to the manger, but following the singing and the visiting royalty, the journey continued.  It was a life filled with joy and anguish.  There were some parts that I’m sure Mary would have avoided but her feet, with God’s help, carried her through.  She gave birth to salvation on Christmas, but she continued to give birth to salvation through her life in the world by nurturing a life with Christ and following the call of God.

The angel appears to all of us this Advent and echoes the words he spoke to Mary.  “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”  (Luke 1:28).  We are favored and blessed, not because of what we have done, but whose we are.  We may pause and look around, thinking the angel is surely asking someone else.  Mary did it too.  We may question our qualifications and ability, but make no mistake-each of us is being called.  We are asked to bear Christ in the world through our lives, not just around the tree or at a Christmas pageant, but everywhere, even at the car wash.

Our shoes are shined and ready to walk.  Where will our feet carry us and will we have the courage to tell it? Everyday.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lost Sheep? Prodical Sons? GOOD NEWS FOR YOU

Before Christ’s coming into the world, all men universally in Adam were nothing else but a wicked and crooked generation, rotten and corrupt trees, stony ground, full of brambles and briars, lost sheep, prodigal sons, naughty unprofitable servants, unrighteous stewards, workers of iniquity, the brood of adders, blind guides, sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death: to be short nothing else but children of perdition, and inheritors of hell fire.

But after [Christ] was once come down from heaven, and had taken our frail nature upon him, he made all them that would receive him truly, and believe his word, good trees, and good ground, fruitful and pleasant branches, children of light, citizens of heaven, sheep of his fold, members of his body, heirs of his Kingdom, his true friends and brethren, sweet and lively bread, the elect and chosen people of God.

— Church of England
"Homily on the Nativity"

Friday, December 16, 2011

Two Gifts

“When God planned the great work of saving sinners, he provided two gifts. He gave his Son and he gave his Spirit. In fact each person of the Trinity was involved in the great work of salvation. The love, grace and wisdom of the Father planned it; the love, grace and humility of the Son purchased it; and the love, grace and power of the Holy Spirit enabled sinners to believe and receive it.

The first great truth in this work of salvation is that God sent his Son to take our nature on him and to suffer for us in it. The second great truth is that God gave his Spirit to bring sinners to faith in Christ and so be saved.”

— John Owen
The Holy Spirit, ed. R. J. K. Law
(Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth, 1998)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

How do you make cobra wine?

Another good piece By Jon Acuff at Stuff Christians Like:

How do you make cobra wine?

I’m glad you asked because recently on our trip to Vietnam, I learned the recipe.

Step 1 – Catch cobra.
Step 2 – Put cobra in jug of rice wine.
Step 3 – Seal lid on. Tightly.

From what I can tell, the hardest part of making cobra wine is catching the cobra, but isn’t that true of most cobra-based beverages?

What’s that you say? You’re more of a scorpion wine guy? You feel like it tends to have better undertones of raspberry and oak and scorpion? I’ve heard that myself.

But I can’t say for certain, as I didn’t taste either variety of wine. (Although I hear 2009 was a particularly excellent vintage of cobra.)

Snapping photos of the fun sights in the mountains of Vietnam was a blast, but it wasn’t my biggest takeaway from the trip. Despite my obvious penchant for snake jokes, seeing those jugs of wine was not what I will remember most from the trip. In addition to the miraculous story I told you about a guy named Hoa, what stuck with me from the trip most was something someone said off hand one day.
Tim, an American who has lived in Vietnam for 18 years as a missionary, mentioned something while we were driving around Hanoi. Here is what he said:

“You know, when the Vietnamese bump into Christ, they go deep in their faith really quickly. They get gifted deeply and really build a strong faith in a short amount of time.”

That surprised me a little, and I asked him why. His answer surprised me even more:
“Well,” he said, “the Vietnamese are a spirit-based people. They grew up with animism and ancestor worship. They get that we’re spirit beings living in a world that is not our final destination. They’re in touch with the role of the spirit in our lives. They get the Holy Spirit. Sometimes Christians in America have a harder time grasping that part of faith.”

That short conversation caught me off guard and exposed something in my own life.

I’ve got a whole lot of religion, but very little spirituality.

For the last year, I’ve worked as hard as I possibly can on being a good steward of the talents I feel like God has given me. I’ve spoken all over the country. I wrote Quitter. I balanced my family and my dream and hustled more than I ever have before. And the truth is, I put blood, sweat and tears into my own effort-based natural results.

Hustle, I understand. If you work hard, certain things happen. If you work harder than the next guy, certain things happen. If you push and strive, good things can happen.

But, along the way, I feel like I lost touch with the Holy Spirit. I got so focused on my own natural results, of seeing the progress of my effort, that I lost sight of the supernatural.

My faith became mechanical and mathematical. Here’s the thing, though: I don’t want to live a life based on my efforts.

It’s exhausting. Before I was a Christian, trying to fix myself and numb the things that hurt was
exhausting. Now that I’m a Christian, trying to make life work on my own is just as tiring.

I don’t want that kind of faith.

I want spirit-driven faith. I want deep, soaked-in-the-Holy Spirit faith. I don’t want to experience the best of what Jon Acuff is capable. That’s small and tiny and insignificant. I want to experience the best of what God is capable. A supernatural God who breathed life into me and set the stars in place and moves with as much mystery and creativity as he did when he wrote a message on the wall for a king or burned a talking bush for a prophet.

I don’t want to be in charge of my growth, with effort-based faith that hollows me out and leaves me shiny on the outside and empty in the middle.

I want Christ to be in charge of my growth. A Christ that didn’t say to the disciples, “Come and you will learn how to be fishers of men.” A Christ who said, “Come and I will make you fishers of men.”
If you and I believed for a second that the same power that raised Christ from the dead was in us, can you fathom how different that day would be?

I wish I could wrap this post up with three neat little steps on how to fix the situation and live a spirit-based life. But to do so puts me right back into effort mode.

Today, my prayer for me, and maybe for you if you’ve been living a 2D faith too, is that we won’t get comfortable in the natural. That we’ll learn to rest and return to a God who is, always has been, and always will be supernatural.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cop Cars and Grace

 By Jon Acuff at Stuff Christians Like

I recently hit A-list status on Southwest.

Which means, well, absolutely nothing.

When the packet of info came in the mail announcing my new status, I kept flipping through the brochure looking for the benefits. “I already check in early, so A-status check in isn’t special. But surely there’s something?” I thought. Nope. There is nothing.

There’s no special club at the airport that smells like lavender.
There’s no first class for you to sit in.
There’s no diamond, platinum or gold package you earn.
You get to receive 25% more miles every time you fly. And you can apply those miles to … nothing.

I’m fine with that, though, because that’s what I love about Southwest. They’re cheap. They’re low priced. They give you great service and very little else. It wouldn’t make sense for them to be low priced and have some blinged out rewards programs.

I get it. I do. But my oldest daughter L.E. didn’t. A few weeks ago, we flew out to Las Vegas for a speaking engagement. On the flight home she asked me, “Will we get a meal on this plane?” In a classic father/daughter moment, I turned to her slowly and said, “L.E., let me tell you a little about Southwest.”

We’re getting peanuts. If all goes well, the peanuts will have a light glaze of honey roast. But it’s just going to be peanuts. And that’s OK.

During the four hour flight home, I answered a lot of other questions for L.E. She’s 8, and 8 year olds are full of questions. That’s kind of what they do. And in the middle of the flight, looking at L.E., I thought of one of my own:

“Why did Christ say we needed receive the kingdom of God like a little child?”

Have you ever thought about that? We often talk about “faith like a child,” from verses like Luke 18:17 that says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” or Matthew 18:4, “Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Kids are interesting role models though. I guarantee you’ve never been in a meeting at work and someone said, “In order to hit our sales numbers this quarter, we’ve got to have discipline like a child.” No politician has ever said, “If I’m elected, I’ll run the country with wisdom like a child.” No coach has ever said, “In order for us to win Saturday’s game, we need to work hard like a child.”

It’s difficult to find another context in life where being “like a child” is held up as something to emulate. (Except for maybe the arts.)

So why then, of all the examples Christ could have used, are children the example he picked? I’ve heard someone say it’s because kids are dependent and in need of being taken care of, and God takes care of us like that.

But I think there’s an even simpler possibility.
Because kids get grace.

Grace makes sense to kids. They’ve got the imagination and creativity and “anything is possible” attitude that can accept the unbelievable nature of grace. We adults are the ones who have a hard time with it.

We’ve spent 10 or 20 or 30 years learning how “things work.” There are consequences, cause and effect, A+B = C situations. Grace doesn’t fit those.

We get something we don’t deserve. Something we can’t control. Something we can’t earn. Something that makes no sense when you try to break it down logically. So you’re saying that when I make a mess of my life, when I wreck everything in it, that there’s a God who loves me so much that he sent his only son to die for me so that I could repent and be forgiven?

That’s crazy.
But not to kids.

McRae, my youngest daughter, reminded me of this a few months ago.

While we were leaving Chuck-e-Cheese, the only place she ever picks for our daddy/daughter dates, we heard a police siren. Into the dark fall night the blue lights of a cop car sped by. In the backseat, I heard McRae sigh and say,

“Ohhhh, I love that sound.”

That’s a strange thing for a six year old to say, so I asked her why. Without missing a beat she said,

“Because that’s the sound of someone getting rescued.”

Have you ever thought that?

I haven’t. When I see a cop car with the lights on behind me, my first thought is “Was I speeding? Oh no, he’s coming for me. There’s no way I was going as fast as that other guy. I just kind of ran the red light. He really ran it!” If the cop passes me, I wonder who he’s going to get. I imagine someone has broken the law and is about to be caught.

Kids? They get rescue. They get grace.

And in case I wasn’t paying attention that night, God gave me another example from McRae. One day she told me about a boy in her pre-school class who was really bad last year. (Bad in pre-school usually means you’re a biter.)

In the midst of telling me how bad he was, McRae said,

“He used to wear really soft and fuzzy slippers to school. Even when it wasn’t pajama day. I bet his mom heard how bad he was, and she let him wear those fun slippers because she wanted him to know that no matter how bad he was, she loved him.”

That’s how kids think. If you’re loved, you’re fully loved. If you’re in need of rescue, it’s coming. If you’re bad, you can still come home.

Kids get grace.

I think Christ wants us to get it too.

That’s why I think he wants us to have faith like a child.

Friday, December 2, 2011

No Mute Button

Father, thank you that we don’t have to mute our emotions, window-dress our stories, or doing anything to get ready for grace. Grace is for sinners, not for the competent. Mercy is for messes, not for the manicured. Strength comes to the weak, not to the promising. Hope is for the heartless, not the hardy.  
- Scotty Smith