Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Coming Together

This past Sunday (November 21), CrossBridge participated in a community-wide Thanksgiving Service. Several different churches came together to express our thanksgiving to God for His unspeakable gift.

The New Hope Church (A Cumberland Presbyterian fellowship), under the leadership of Donny Acton, hosted the event. Along with the praise band at New Hope, Donny and his wife led us in some powerful praise and worship, centering on the grace that is ours in Christ Jesus. Clark Skelton, pastor of Indian Springs Baptist Church, guided the assembly in a period of testimonials. Church leaders from other churches read scripture, led in prayer, and spoke words of blessing. I was given the honor, and responsibility, of speaking on this occasion. Whether the message was any good, other, more objective folks will need to judge, but I sensed a sweet, accepting atmosphere in that place.

After the service, the New Hope church provided refreshments. I talked to so many people from different Christian churches that I've forgotten all the "flavors" I was able to sample. One thing, however, stood out. There was a sincere love for God and one another in that room. For the first time, I really sensed what God is doing throughout His kingdom. Barriers are being broken down. Jesus is being exalted. And, God's people are coming together.

"I pray that they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you; that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me." May we all work to answer this prayer of God!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Love: Beyond Language

As I wrote in an earlier blog, my son, Zach, and I hiked from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River and back in one day. We did this along with my sister, brother-in-law, and my dad. There were so many memorable sights, experiences, and conversations that I'm still processing them all. As I was meditating this morning, while looking at a picture of Zach against the stunning backdrop of the Grand Canyon, I was reminded of one story that came from our trip together.

We started our descent into the Canyon just before 6:00 a.m. Since one of our group was having a pretty difficult time (I won't give my brother-in-law's name), we dragged ourselves out of the Canyon at 7:30 that evening. Zach and I were the first to emerge from the Bright Angel trail. As we came out, there was a very concerned-looking, older lady standing at the trail head. When I passed, she asked, in broken English with a very thick German accent, if I had seen her husband. Once again in broken English, she described him as a tall gentlemen with gray hair (at least, that's what I interpreted her words to mean). I told her that I thought I saw someone of that description farther down the trail, but couldn't be positive.

After this brief exchange, I walked over to a bench, dropped my backpacks (I had to carry not only mine but two others of our group as well), and headed for the portable toilets. As I was making my way back to the bench, I saw this tall, older gentlemen who obviously was looking for someone. "Could this be the woman's husband?" I thought to myself.

I must confess that, at first, I just started walking back to the bench. I was entirely too tired to get involved, thinking that they'd eventually discover each other anyway. I even walked passed him several steps then, as if an invisible hand stopped me, I turned back. "Sir, Sir. Are you looking for your wife?" I said. "No sprechen sie Englisch," he said (or something like that). Since I took only two semisters of Theological German for reading purposes, needless to say my conversational German was woefully deficient for such a conversation. So, whether I've written correctly what the gentelman said or not, I knew what he was saying--he did not speak English. I responded, "No sprechen sie Deutsche," trying to let him know that I didn't speak his language either.

I tried to communicate anyway. "Are you looking for your wife?" I said slowly and loudly. (Isn't it strange how we think speaking slowly and loudly miraculously transcends language barriers?) He looked confused. I showed him my wedding ring and made a gesture with my hands in the shape of an hour glass, thinking that was the universal symbol for woman. (I know it was kind of sexist on my part, but I was desperate!). Strangley, he even looked more confused. I pointed to his ring and said "Wife, Wife" and made my (sexist) gesture again. Something clicked. "Fief, Fief?" Not sure of the exact German dialect, that sounded close enough to wife for me. Forgetting what language we were speaking, I said "Ci, Ci," then laughed. "I mean, Ja, Ja."

Now I was in a quandry. What if the woman I saw wasn't even his wife? I might be starting something that God would hold against me in the judgment! I just had a hunch, though, that these two belonged together. I tried to tell him to stay where he was and I would go get the woman I thought was is "fief" (sp?). I went to where I initially saw the woman and she was gone. Zach said she'd walked down the path to the road, so off I went to find her. Since it was now pitch dark, I was looking for her with a flashlight. Nowhere to be found. There was a row of parallel-parked cars near the walkway, so I began shining my light into the windows. I knew this really looked suspicious, but I kept shining anyway.

Eventually I spotted a woman sitting in her car. I shined the light on her and tapped on her window. I don't know what she thought. Here she was in a foreign country, her husband is lost, and now she's about to be abducted. As I shined the light on her, I sensed the confused fear in her eyes. Hoping to calm her, I shined the light on my own face and said "husband, husband." In retrospect, I wondered what I was actually conveying to her...and I really don't want to know.

Luckily, she recognized me, got out of her car and walked with me. I kept thinking, what if these two don't even belong together? Despite my doubts, we trudged ahead. When we got to the place where I told the German guy to remain, he was gone. I asked Zach if he saw where he went. "He walked down that way," Zach said, pointing down a paved walkway. I told the woman, whose English was slightly better than her alleged husband's to stay put. I took off down the trail and found the guy searching for someone. I don't know why, except that it was apparently the only word we seemed to understand between us, but I called out "Hey, fief, fief." He looked in my direction and I motioned for him to follow me, which he did.

The woman was walking down the path toward us (German folk just don't stay put when you asked them to, or is it worried folk don't stay put?). I was praying, O, Lord, please let these two belong to one another. Before I said amen to this very brief, but eanest prayer, they spotted each other. Immediately, by the German "hoops and hollers" I knew they belonged together.

They embraced. They kissed. They spoked in relieved and joyful tones to one another. They both looked at me and said repeatedly "Danke, Danke, O, Danke." The man gave me a knowing look with a smile on his face and said "fief," and made a gesture of an hour glass with his hands. We nearly fell out laughing. We couldn't communicate by words, but the hugs, the laughter, and the eyes spoke clearly enough. It felt as if we knew each other, as if something spiritual had taken place between us all. As they walked away arm in arm, I said, remembering a smattering of German, "Gute Nacht, und Gesundheit," Good night, and health.

In that moment, I realized that love transcends language. There is a human longing for connection at an intimate level, something God has placed within us all. Despite our differences, despite our inabilities to articulate our positions, despite barriers that exist between us, love transcends them all, binding human hearts together. Perhaps that's why Paul would say, "And over all these virtures put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity" (Col. 3:14). In the emerging culture, we have trouble speaking each other's language. Love, however, can do what even the best-crafted, most articulate sentence never can accomplish--communicate to our hearts, bridge the cultural divide, and forge lasting relationships.

Monday, November 08, 2004

"I Owe You An Apology"

At some level, and in some fashion, all of us have felt the sting of negativity. It might be a "teeth bared" diatribe or the more insidious compliment followed by a "but..." Regardless of its expression, negativity takes its toll on our spirits.

Last Sunday, I approached a sweet lady who I knew used our building for a birthday party the day before. After our usual embrace and greetings, I asked about the party. "It was absolutely wonderful, except for the building." "What do you mean?" I asked. "When we got there," she continued, "the building was a mess. We had to take several loads of trash out to the dumpster. The stench was horrible." "I am so sorry," I responded with sincere regret. "Our cleaning crew comes in on Saturday evenings due to the high level of activities we have in our facilities. I do hope, however, that the party went well." She assured me that, not only did the party go well, but she and her family were so grateful for the use of our facilities.

Admittedly, I was a little down, but shook it off pretty quickly. You learn to do that when you're a minister. After all, I had a sermon to preach and many other people to greet. By the end of service, I had completely forgotten about the conversation. Afterward, this dear sister came up to me and, with tears in her eyes, said she needed to talk with me. Not really sure what was wrong, I gave her my attention. She began; "I owe you an apology, brother." "For what," I replied. "When you asked me about the birthday party, it was sinful of me to be negative. Jesus taught us about careless words and that's exactly what they were. I'm so sorry. I should be building you up, rather than tearing you down. Please forgive me."

I told her that she had done nothing to forgive. With stern, but caring eyes, she said, "No, brother, I need your forgiveness. Would you please forgive me?" Tears now welled up in my eyes. "Yes, dear sister, I forgive you." "And," I added, "thanks for demonstrating to me what a real godly heart is like."

I wonder what our world--no our churches--would look like if we adopted this attitude? We just might start resembling the "body of Christ."