Friday, August 10, 2007

Whatever Happened To Lingering?

Recently, I had the pleasure of breaking bread with a fellow minister; we sat in the restaurant for close to 3 hours, enjoying our time of fellowship and getting better acquainted. It was merely a time of fellowship, a time for he and I to get to know each other a bit better, yet it lasted almost three full hours.

A couple weeks ago, I met another friend at a well-known coffee house; we sat there over a cup of coffee and killed two hours. The only reason we parted ways was because we both had kids in school, waiting to be picked up.

It is not uncommon, in Pentecostal churches at least, for fellowship to last upwards of an hour after service has ended. Ironically, we'll stand around in the foyer (or parking lot) talking for a half-hour about where we're going to go fellowship for the next hour and a half.

I can enjoy a meal with my family, and when the last bite is finished, and the last plate pushed away with a contented sigh, sit there and continue the conversation for hours. And this is before it dawns on me (or someone else) that the livingroom furniture is more comfortable so "why don't we go on in there and talk for a spell?"

So why do we have such problems lingering in the presence of God? Whatever happened to lingering?

I can recall those services where the glory of God seemed to fall right close to the end of the altar service. No, nothing spectacular may have occurred during the course of the service, and there may have been no miraculous in-filling of the Spirit to an unsaved person, but there was a "lingering" that called us to just hang around for a few minutes longer. No rush to get to the restaurants, no hurry to get the kids in bed (although chances are, they'd go home and dawdle about that, anyway), no thoughts of 5:00AM coming early so I need to rush home and get to bed...

No, there was just that quiet, drawing Spirit that called us to just hang around...don't rush out, don't be in a hurry to leave. It was similar to that comforting feeling of hanging around the table after Thanksgiving dinner, or savoring a cup of coffee with a friend.

What a Friend we have in Jesus...

So why don't I prolong my time with Him?

What has happened to those services where we want to hang around, where we're more interested in what's happening right there in the sanctuary of God? Is it maybe because we've stopped realizing what a sanctuary His Presence really is? Is it possible that we've become so engrossed with everything else in life that we cannot even slow down to realize that, in His Presence, there's fullness of joy?

I know that I'm not the only one affected by this malady of misdirection, but I cannot change anyone other than myself. I am responsible for my own relationship with God, and the words that I write this evening are directed at my own heart. Call it introspection, if you will, but I have come to realize how precious His presence is to me.

What a fellowship, what a joy divine...

Oh what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear...

There is absolutely nothing like the Presence of God, and it is in those times that we stand in His Glory and majesty that it becomes almost overwhelming to realize that, one of these days, if we remain faithful to Him, we will enjoy that inexplicable peace for all eternity. It is more than the human mind can fathom.

So why don't I linger more? Why am I always in such a hurry to get things done, to move on to the next service, the next weekend, the next midweek Bible study?

Why is it that suddenly---in the last few years, I suppose---that life has become so demanding? I have said for years, and will continue to believe, that those whom the enemy knows he cannot turn back, he will try to turn aside. If Satan cannot get a child of God to turn back to a life of sin, then his next biggest threat is to get them distracted, looking in all directions but the one that really matters.

With all of our calendars, Day-Timers, planners, pocket PC's, etc, we have managed to schedule our time so much more efficiently that we have almost scheduled God out of the picture. Pardon me if this sounds abrupt, but are we guilty of "penciling God in for an hour on Friday"? What would happen to my day---stop and think about this concerning your own schedule---if I actually got lost in the spirit of prayer and fellowship with God, and spent eight full hours with Him, instead of rushing about doing everything I'm trying to do? Would the world collapse? Would the church go bankrupt?

Or would I discover God in a way that I have yet to know Him? Would I become more closely acquainted with Him, as I did with my minister friend over a three-hour lunch a few days ago?

We need a revival of lingering in our services. I realize that we cannot force God's hand, we cannot make His Spirit sweep through our altar services, causing us to want to hang around. Pardon me for being a bit blunt, but I wonder sometimes if God desires fellowship more than we do? Is it possible that I leave Him standing there wondering where I rushed off to?

"Could ye not tarry one hour?"

Is He still asking me the same question that He posed to His other disciples?

Calvary To A Child

Some time ago, I volunteered to take some old audio cassettes of sermons and preaching and convert them over to MP3 files for a friend of mine. He had discovered these old tapes in rummaging around through his attic, and thought to just discard them (attics, time, and mud wasps take their toll on old cassette tapes) but when I discovered his intention, I stepped up and offered to do this for him.

The job is not difficult, merely time-consuming; plug a cassette tape into the deck, and start recording. Most of the time, I have the volume muted so I'm not distracted by the progess of the recording until the annoying "ker-chunk" of the tape deck lets me know that the tape has reached it's end. I admit that I have probably missed a lot of good material by keeping the sound muted while these tapes are in the process of being recorded.

I have, though, uncovered some preaching gems in these boxes (which is why I volunteered to do it in the first place). Some of these tapes are by men who are/were looked at as giants in our movement, great men of God; some are from years ago, delivered by men who, sadly, are no longer with us, either because of natural or spiritual death. And so this morning, while sitting here at my computer, I kept the volume turned on (albeit at a very low level) while I continued working on my computer.

I'm glad I did.

The husband-wife team who were involved in this particular message are not known as "giants" of our movement. They are childrens' evangelists. It's not a real glamorous ministry, and one that is sometimes viewed as a "cute little thing" rather than being a bona fide ministry. And that in itself is a crying shame, for children are the future generation, and anyone who gives up the so-called limelight of ministerial politics to give themselves to reach young people is probably more of a giant in God's eyes than a lot of those oft-proclaimed "great preachers".

I've listened to a lot of preaching tapes, heard a lot of great "sermons" about God, about the Cross, about the blood of Jesus, and about the saving grace of God. I've heard a lot of good material just in the handful of these tapes that I've listened to thus far, and have little doubt that I'll hear some more before I'm finished.

However, this morning, because a husband and wife commited themselves to reaching children with this message, I saw Calvary in a whole new light.

Calvary from a child's perspective...

Children don't understand why Jesus had to die. Children can't comprehend that, because of the mistake of one man and one woman, we are all born into a life of sin, helpless to change ourselves. They don't understand the word redemption, nor the concept of grace, or the idea of spiritual adoption. The blood of Jesus, to a child, is something that probably should require a Band-Aid, not something to be sung about...

Children look at life so differently, with such innocence, and---because of a tape that I listened to this morning---I finally understood (I think) why the concept of salvation is so difficult for them at times.

Why did Jesus have to die?

He didn't do anything wrong. He made blind people see. He helped deaf people hear again. He touched crippled arms and legs and feet and made them all better. He loved everyone. He helped others. He taught people how to live better, to be nicer to others. He made bad people good. He was never mean or rude. He never told kids to go away and leave him alone. He always had time for children. He always had time for everyone, it seems like.

So why did He have to die? And why did those people do such terrible things to Him?

In today's society, much is said about the terrible effect that social trauma can have on a child. Witnessing parent's argue or fight; watching the effects that drugs and alcohol have on family members; abuse in all shapes and forms; these all take their toll on the hearts and minds of our children.

Can you imagine what a child must have thought while witnessing Calvary's cruelty? Imagine the child that once had been taken into Jesus' arms, sat on His lap, used as an object lesson to a bunch of arguing grown-ups...Can you fathom the shock and horror as he now watches Jesus struggle to draw another breath? Can you see the tears streaming down dusty little faces of children who had once laughed and ran in His footsteps, but now their eyes are wide with fear, not understanding why this kind man---who had always been so nice to everyone around him---was now hanging on a Roman cross, with crowds screaming at him, spitting on him, laughing at him?

I can't imagine it either.

But for one brief little moment this morning, I was taken back to the horror of Calvary, and saw it through the innocent eyes of a little child. And I sat here and I cried.

Sometimes we think we have it all figured out: God's plan of redemption, the purpose of the incarnation of deity into humanity, the sacrificial Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, the restoration of fellowship between God and His own creation. We quote scriptures from Old and New Testament alike, pointing to why all this happened, and we have all the understanding of what God intended from the beginning of time. And we feel smug in our confidence that we have the answers, and having those answers makes our salvation that much nicer.

God take me back to Calvary's hill, but let me look at it from the innocence of a child's eyes. Let me see the horror, the agony, the cruelty beyond imagination, and let me---as a child---wonder again:

"Why did you have to die? Did I do something wrong?"


Friday, August 03, 2007

Daddy's Tears

Had to take my youngest daughter to the dentist this morning.

Although I'm going to reveal something that might, in the future, be a bit of an embarrassment to her, I'm only sharing this to validate the point that I want to make. Please don't feel that I'm being a cruel, heartless father for "telling on" my child; after all, it's something that many a child has to deal with.

She has had a problem with thumb-sucking, from infanthood. She grew tired real quickly of a pacifier; it would fall out in the middle of the night, and when she couldn't find it, she would wake us all with her wailing. Mom or Dad would groggily go and fetch the pacifier, plug it back in, she would drift back off to sleep with a contented whimper, only to have it happen all over again.

The problem is, this "addiction" didn't go away when she turned 2...or 3...or 7...or even 8. It has become a subconscious gesture, a security thing; most of the time, she doesn't even realize she's got her thumb in her mouth until Daddy says "Get your thumb out of your mouth!"

We've tried everything short of jalapeno pepper juice. (The only reason we refused that old trick is because of the danger of her getting pepper on the rest of her digits, then reaching up to rub her eye. NOT fun!) But it didn't matter what we tried; nothing worked. Not threats, not mittens, not even that nasty-tasting stuff made to stop nail-biting and thumb-sucking. Oh, it slowed her down for a day or so, but---by her own admission---she gradually got to where the taste didn't bother her, and before long, she was just as bad as ever.

We tried rewarding her. Wouldn't work.

We tried grounding her from certain treats (No bubble gum until you quit sucking your thumb). Still had no effect.

It was a subconscious thing, that she really had little or no control over.

Finally, during a routine office visit with the dentist, he mentioned to her (and daddy, of course) about the damage that thumb-sucking would do. He gently cautioned her about it, encouraged her to try to stop, then quietly mentioned to me that, as a last resort, there was a device that could be installed in the soft palate that would prevent the thumb from "resting" where it normally does.

"It's actually a subconscious habit they develop, sort of a security thing, and when they can't 'seat' the thumb there in that spot, it feels unnatural, and that encourages them to stop." was his explanation. What did I know, other than the fact that nothing else had worked.

So we went to the dentist today.

She's been facing this date with both dread and anticipation. On the one hand, she knows it will be a struggle to give up what has become almost second-nature to her, yet on the other hand, she wants so desperately to stop a habit that she knows is unhealthy, and the source of ridicule from other kids her age. She wants to be looked at as a "little lady" and not a "baby", but the pull of what has always provided her that tiny bit of security...not an easy prison to break free of.

Words can't describe how agonizing it was for me to watch them install this device. Granted, my daughter has earned her nickname "Drama Queen" for her melodramatics, but a parent knows when their child is genuinely hurting, or when they're just wanting some extra attention. Although I'm sure that a big part of her discomfort was the trauma of having some foreign fixture in her mouth, I also know that the pain of having it fastened to her teeth was very real. I know that the spacers they had to set caused her severe discomfort, and I know that this appliance---helpful though it is---is not comfortable, and certainly having it shoved into the roof of her mouth wasn't fun.

I sat there and watched, and I'll give my daughter credit: she cried silently.

Usually she lets the tears flow freely, and has no problem letting everyone around her know that she's unhappy. But today, she tried her best to be brave and quiet about it.

She cried without making a sound.

As she lay on her back in that dentists' chair, I watched as her little tummy heaved with silent sobs. I watched as her little feet crossed and uncrossed, as her hands gripped the arms of the chair to keep herself from interfering with the doctor. And I confess, a tear trickled from the corner of my eye. I couldn't, and wouldn't, stop it; that was my baby girl that was enduring the pain and stress of being "manhandled".

The dentist is one of the best I've ever met, and I know he was not being rough with her, but...oh, did I ever want to rush to my daughter's rescue, snatch her out of that chair, tell him "Just forget it!" and take her home where I could sugar-coat that thumb and make it even better. Anything to stop the pain and trauma.

But I knew...

I knew this was for the best for my child.

I knew that this was designed to help set her free of something that she could not do on her own.

I realized that, as gentle as that doctor was trying to be, there was a certain amount of discomfort that my child, my precious little girl, would have to encounter in order for this to succeed.

And I knew that this dentist knew what he was doing. I trusted him with my child's welfare, to take care of her, even though it might look (from my perspective) that he was not.

Daddy shed some tears today, even though I wasn't the one in the dentist's chair.

I cried for the pain and hurt that my child was having to endure.

And it dawned on me...

While we're being manhandled by the world, while we're enduring the pain, having things forced into our lives that make no sense, God is wiping away tears from His own eyes. Oh, the enemy would have us believe that, while we are being subjected to his evil devices, his assault on us, that God has turned His back to us, that He is unconcerned with our hurts, our confusion, our dismay.

But as a father who wept for my child today, who watched her silently endure something that, really, she's still too young to fully understand, I realize now that my Father loves me even more than I can comprehend.

He gets no pleasure out of my struggles; He gets no joy from my being broken. I believe when the ointment in my broken vessel is spilled out, His tears mingle with it. He hurts when we hurt.

But He knows what is best.

And in spite of the tears, He allows us to endure the hardships, the discomfort, the times of confusion, hurt, dismay. Because He knows that in the end, we will stand taller and have no cause to be ashamed of who we are.

I just went and hugged my little girl again.

Told her how proud I was of her for being so brave and doing so good in the dentist's chair. She doesn't understand exactly why I'm so proud of her.

But I am.

One of these days, I hope to get a hug like that from a Father who's proud of me, too.