Friday, April 17, 2020

CONFESSIONS FROM A CRANKY OBSERVER

In today's entry, I'm going to jump into the proverbial waters of blogdom, discretely typing this missive six feet from the nearest human being, hitting the keys (which I have judicially sprayed with disinfectant) with my lizard-textured hands brought on by repeated washings to the tune of "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star" and/or generous application of hand sanitizer (and as usual, I need to remind everyone that these opinions and observations are mine alone--don't go protesting my work place or demand my head).

Overall, I consider myself  a positive person. I think that's a fair thing to say. So it may surprise you to hear when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, I've had moments of, well, crankiness.

I've reached the enviable age of "having to visit doctors a lot more" (no worries, I'm fine). I remember my first week of my regular visit. Fought for a parking place in the hospital parking lot. Entered the front door, passed dozens of people going in and out, found the elevator, went up to the section, stood at check-in desk and, well, checked in. Signed twice with electronic pen and pad. They slapped a wristband ID on me (I assume so they didn't accidentally mix me up with another patient). I thought, in the words of friend of mine from church, "this gettin' old isn't for sissies."

A couple of more weeks, a couple of more visits (yeah, it's a weekly thing, but no worries, I'm fine. Honest). I've noticed it is gradually getting easier to find a parking spot. The people coming in and out are fewer. But as I walk through the front entrance, I am greeted  by a smiling, happy young lady who asked where I was going, was I feeling okay, did I travel anywhere, and would I please help myself to a squirt of sanitizer. I replied 'yes, no, of course" to the last three and proceeded to the elevator. Signed in and got my wristband ID (whew).

The next week, parking was a breeze (I'm almost by the front door!). I was greeted by another smiling, happy young lady who happened to wear a mask. She asked me the same questions-- where was I going, health, travels, and invitation to the squirt. Up the elevator, but this time, the check in desk had me stand back before signing the pad. And no wrist ID (but what if they mistake me for another patient?). 

Yet another week, with piece of cake parking, and maybe one or two people going in or out. The greeter sounded like she was smiling and happy and maybe young, but I couldn't tell, because she was covered head to toe in what looked like an oversized surgical gown, gloves, and a mask. Questions. Squirt. And at the check in desk, the pad was situated on a cart, well away from the check-in desk. And no ID, which I was actually okay with, because I figured they knew me by now. After all, I'm the only one ON THE ENTIRE FLOOR WITHOUT A  MASK AND GLOVES!

So, why do I suffer from bouts of crankiness? I think it's this "new normal." I dislike that phrase because this is not normal.

Don't get me wrong. It is heartwarming to see our neighbors--or at least their eyes (because, you know, masks) and their compassion to one another. I can't remember a time when people have been so nice to each other, so understanding, so comforting and helpful. Well, there was 9-11, where we pulled together in an incredibly strong way, holding one another and....ummm, but we can't do any holding right now. No hugs, handshakes, or high-fives. Just kind words. At a distance. Maybe do a chore or run an errand. But don't get too close.

I'm thrilled that the church is stepping up and stepping out (within social distancing guidelines) to help others. And we have taken advantage of a plethora of technology to hold services and meetings. It is good to keep people connected with the Word. I applaud it--I really do. But I'm sorry, it's just not the same. Yeah, it's the (cough) "new normal." But the fact that some of you are more concerned about that cough just now instead of the fact that a public health crisis has forced us to sit apart and watch a service on our computer screens illustrates the point that none of this is "normal" (for the record, the cough was fake. I'm fine, really. After all, I visit the doctor. A lot).

I'm watching split screen newscasts with half the anchors and reporters coming to us live from their webcams in their living rooms with the breaking news of the day. And what is the breaking news of the day? Coronavirus is not only worse than we thought, but it will last longer than we thought. And we hear it. Every. Single. Day. But then comes the fun part, in which they do human interest stories about happy people happily adjusting to their happy restrictions during the "new normal."

But it's not "normal."

Yes, I like the stories. I like the creativity. As I mentioned, I like the human kindness. I think one of the best things that has come out of this shutdown has been the memes. And generally being a positive person, I do my best to walk on the proverbial sunny side of the street.

But I want "normal" back. Improved normal, fine. But "new normal?" Not so much.

As I left the hospital after my last visit, I passed the greeter. I thanked her for her work and wished her wellness and safety. I assumed she was smiling and happy and young (I couldn't tell for sure because of her gear), but the way her eyes crinkled up, I think her smile may have grown a little more. I helped myself to another squirt of hand sanitizer.

That should be normal. 

At least the kind words. 


______________________________________
In all seriousness, the current epidemic is serious. And while there is a lot we do not know, it helps to practice what we do know. So please, stay home if you can, respect space between people, don't touch your face, wash your hands often and frequently, and let's get through this together.


 





Wednesday, January 08, 2020

HERE'S TO THE QUIET MINISTRIES

Do you have any "quiet" ministries in your church?

Whether it is the quaint "sewing circle" that laughs and prays by needlepoint in the back room or the group that gets together to sing the "old hymns" for an hour, there seems to be groups that do not draw a lot of attention; indeed, many in the congregation may not even be aware of their existence. While a church's major Bible studies or children's ministries draw a lot of attention, the "quiet" groups faithfully meet week by week, year after year, contributing to the Body for the glory of God.

Last week, I conducted a memorial service for a lady who passed away around the holidays. I did not know her, but I knew she regularly attended our church's weekly "Ladies' Prayer Breakfast" at a local restaurant. Now while the Breakfast is listed in our church schedule and is hardly a "secret," it is not the most visible of ministries in our church. I've heard more than one of our leaders confess to not being aware of this group or what they did. The "Ladies' Prayer Breakfast" is one of those "quiet" ministries.

In preparing for the service, I learned a lot about this woman, but I also learned a lot about the Ladies' Prayer Breakfast. Family and friends testified about how important the Breakfast was to this woman and how thankful they were that she had a group of friends around her. She was not able to get out much, but someone always picked her up for the Breakfast, where she enjoyed her weekly helping of biscuits and gravy. It is safe to say the ladies at the Breakfast ministered to her--and she to them.

The catchword in many churches these days is "doing life together," growing in mutual faith and accountability to one another. Forgive the description, but it's a very "Millennial" thing to do. But as I listened to woman after woman talk about their relationship between this woman and the Breakfast, it occurred to me that this quiet ministry was already "doing life together." The group has lost three of its members in the last year. They have experienced family members go through crises. Their lives and struggles and hopes are linked in a "koinonia"--a living assembly. It is not manufactured, but very organic and real. The Ladies Prayer Breakfast does not get the attention or the focus or the promotion that other ministries get, but it is part of "church."

So what "quiet" groups are in your church? You don't have to join every group you
discover, but maybe a give a word of affirmation and an offer of prayer to its members. You may be surprised at how much these little known ministries are  "doing life together."

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

HAPPY NEW YEAR



HAPPY NEW YEAR!
And welcome to a brand new, simple post for what will hopefully be a new beginning for this blog. You may have noticed a slight change in the title to STILL Incomprehensible by Tim" In other words, it's still by Tim--same guy, a little older, maybe a tad wiser.
     It's still called "Incomprehensible," mainly because you never know what will come up. It could be serious, it could be humorous. It may touch on politics or pop culture. Ministry and children's ministry will be topics. It is (still) a running essay from my brain to your eyes.
     But you can expect to see some other minor changes as the days and weeks go by, mostly cosmetic and some adjustment of how I unfold content. But the biggest change is that I will attempt to keep the blog current. I won't promise a post every day, but I will try my best to post regularly, as opposed to waiting months (or years) to chime in. And if you have ideas on topics, drop a comment below.
     As for today, the first day of a brand new year, I offer no big insights, no pithy observations, no goofy anecdotes, no brilliant satires, or edgy analysis.. Just a simple wish for a blessed 2020 and a timely warning to old and new readers:
      I'm back!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

WHO KNEW WHAT MARY KNEW (Another Look at a Popular Holiday Song)

With all the hubbub over the classic holiday song, Baby, It's Cold Outside, it's easy to forget another Christmas offering that has been the subject of derision in recent years.

We're speaking, of course, about the iconic Mary, Did You Know? This hauntingly beautiful song, written by Mark Lowry, has been covered by dozens of artists over the years such as Kenny Rogers, Cee Lo Greene, and Pentatonix. It has become a staple of most modern holiday albums. It is a poignant song about the fact that Jesus was not just an ordinary baby, but none other but the great I AM. At its core, it highlights the deity of Christ, a central doctrine of the historic Christian faith.
Why do some feel it is their life mission to snipe and point out the flaws in such a moving tune?

Yet, snipes come. And surprisingly, most of the vehemence comes from Christian circles. Theologians smugly smile and point out that Mary did indeed know how special Jesus was. Most trot out doctrinal distinctives the same way they point out how silly it is to have three wise men at the manger when every knowledgeable believer knows that there were more than three wise men and they did not show up until two years later at Joseph's house. Others are a little more blunt, saying, "I hate this song--of course, Mary knew!" There's even a post that questionably changes the lyrics to read, "Mary freaking knew. . .that her baby boy. . .would someday walk on water . . ."

Yes, Mary knew. Maybe not every specific detail of Jesus' life and ministry (since they had not happened yet), but yeah, she knew that Jesus was not just a baby in the manger. Nobody disputes that.

What the "Christmas critics" don't seem to get is that the question, "Mary, did you know. . ." is a rhetorical one. Like an interviewer who asks a marathon winner, "who got to the finish line first?", the singer of this song is not fishing for information, but reinforcing what is already known. He or she is not interrogating Mary, but reminiscing with her.

And really, most importantly: the song isn't for Mary. It's not about her or what she knows or knew or anything. It's not actually asking Mary if she knew.

It's asking us if we know.

Did we know that the Baby in the manger that we so casually reference every December is none other than God in human flesh? That He came for a purpose, a reason, a terrible, tragic, exciting, blessed mission to save mankind from sin?

And does knowing this make a difference in our lives? In your life?

The problem is, a lot of people don't know. And a lot of people who do know, don't really believe it.
As we prepare for Christmas, may we realize that the little baby in the manger is indeed Lord of all creation and that He is the great I AM: God in human flesh.

Do you know?


Thursday, November 29, 2018

YEAH, I HEARD THAT (A Christmas Meditation)

I love Christmas. I like the festivity and the fun and the warmth and the music and so on.

And obviously, I believe that Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of my Savior. That's the big reason for the season, the thing that puts the "holy" into this holiday. As many have observed, you can't have CHRISTmas without CHRIST.

So quit trying to pour cold porridge on my celebration.

Yes, I know Jesus was not born on December 25. I am aware of modern research that places the manger in a cave, or a roof, or a tent. I know the three kings weren't kings, there weren't three of them, and they arrived much later. I know there was no innkeeper, lowing cattle, or little drummer boy.

Furthermore, I know about the history of how December 25 was originally a pagan holiday and that many of the customs and traditions and symbols of Christmas were actually borrowed from these pagan practices.

And don't even start telling me about Santa Claus.

The critiques come from many sources:
  • The guy who comes to my door and recites all this stuff in hopes of causing me to forsake my un-biblical traditions and embrace his system.
  • The atheist/agnostic/liberal skeptic who smugly expounds on these things so that I will awkwardly admit that my faith is silly.
  • The otherwise Christian expert whose mission in life is to make sure every single jot and tittle are precisely lined up according to their own infallible scholarship.
  • Sincere people of every stripe who traditionally resist anything that is traditional.
The fact is, I can knowledgeably expound on most of the Christmas objections. Most believers who attend Bible believing churches can respond to these observations. It's not "new." Facebook posts announcing "13 Startling Things You Didn't Know About Christmas" are usually rehashed content from years gone by.

So why, in spite of everything, do I really, really like Christmas?

Christmas is a recognition that God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, became a human being. He lived a sinless life, He died to pay the price for my sins, He was buried, and He rose again three days later so that, by trusting Him as my Lord and Savior, I can have a brand new life and day-to-day relationship with Him.

No, there is nothing in Scripture that calls upon us to recognize the birth of Jesus. But the importance of the Incarnation is stressed. For example, 1 John 4:2-3 says, "By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God,  and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God." Do we need to hold a Western world style "birthday party for Jesus" to celebrate His coming? No. Do we need to recognize that He came? Oh yes!

So yes: I'm celebrating. All the festivities and fun and warmth and music are ultimately in recognition of the First Coming. The world may celebrate in ignorance, but like Paul in Acts 17, we can show them Who and why we are throwing the party.

If you have serious problems with Christmas, I would be the last to talk you out of your convictions. Richest blessings on you. But I want you to know why I'm celebrating.

And if you're just cranky and you want to unload your Christmas critique, I would ask you to quit trying to dampen my joy.

Because it's safe to say, I've probably heard it all before.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

BIG BLUNDERS

When I was a Children's Pastor, actively involved in the wonderful, wacky world of kidmin, I was pleased with what we got to do week after week. I rejoiced in the victories and accomplishments, knowing that it is from the Lord, who used an incredible team of volunteers to help minister to the children in our church. When we had a win, it was most definitely of God and surely an "us" moment.

And if something "tanked" or "went south," well, that was all me.

But contrary to popular belief, even failures can be a measure of success, because it is in those failures that we learn. So it is in that spirit of education that I present three of my greatest blunders in kidmin. Word of warning: these are not all the "ha-ha, lol blooper"kind of  blunders, but examples of poor planning, bad decisions, or maybe even pig-headed stubbornness that led to a less than ideal outcome.

1. And the winner is. . . 
It was uniform inspection night and I needed to select the Awana kid with the best uniform, the one with all the awards in the right place. I don't remember how many contenders there were, but there were three or four who excelled. Every leader in the place knew that Bobby was the clear winner. Their eyes shifted toward Bobby. Bobby smiled self-consciously.

I picked Kyle.

At the time, I justified my selection in that Kyle was a bright kid who tried really hard every week and probably needed the encouragement. But it was my wife who summed up what was on everyone's mind: "Did you see the look on Bobby's face?"

Yeah. Without intending to, I crushed Bobby's spirit that night. While my motivation may have been good, I really needed to find a different way of expressing encouragement to someone without downplaying the clear achievements of another.

2. New Year's rush.
The first Sunday of the New Year was coming up and I had the bright idea to give the congregation a taste of the fun music we do on Sunday morning. So I asked, begged, pleaded, and cajoled the powers that be to let our Children's Church kids do a couple of songs during the Morning Worship Service. Great way to start the new year, right?

So the week before our "performance," I told the kids what we were doing. We sang our songs just like we always did, and I reminded our children that we would be doing this for our parents next week.  I looked forward to sharing this incredible blessing with our church.

But what I know now, and really, what I've always known, but somehow ignored, was that singing in children's church was far different than "performing" in adult church. Running through our songs the week before did not constitute "rehearsal." In my haste and zeal to showcase our children, I left out the three most important ingredients of a great performance: practice, practice, practice.

The results were squirm-worthy. Most of the kids stood frozen, their eyes glazed, their voices soft or silent, and their arms unable to do the motions that I and another leader were valiantly trying to coach.It was all very awkward. The audience politely applauded, but absent was the enthusiasm for what was normally a very fun, very active children's program. I mumbled something about how stage fright could often take over with kids.  But while stage fright was no doubt part of it, the failure mostly came  from my desire to rush into our first service of the New Year without taking the time to prepare the kids and help them practice.

3. A good idea at the time.
Speaking of public performances, it is not always acknowledged that programs involving kids also involve leaders. One year, as I was planning the end-of-year calendar, I was faced with three programs: our church daycare annual Christmas program, our annual children's ministry Christmas program, and the annual Live Nativity, which was sponsored by a community organization, but staged by our church. Many of our leaders were involved in all three, so I got to thinking: wouldn't it be nice to get all of this out of the way so our leaders could have most of December to relax, have time with family and friends, and not have to worry about planning and preparing and performing? So I picked the first extended weekend in December to launch our programs. Thursday would be the Day Care  Christmas program, Friday, the Live Nativity, and Sunday, Children's Ministries program. I did it for the leaders, we would get all our programs out of the way at the first of the month, leading to a care free December.

Yes, well. . . .

The Day Care and Children's Ministry programs, of course, required rehearsal (see lesson #2 above). So it took some creative scheduling to get kids and leaders into the building often enough to practice. That didn't include coming up with costuming, props, and sets for two different events

As for the Live Nativity, it didn't take as much rehearsal (it was a procession through the town and ending at the church, with no speaking role except for the narrator), but there still had to be a certain amount of coordinating shepherds, wise men, and angels, many of whom were also kidmin leaders who were quite busy with the other two programs.

To this day, the weekend is remembered with a fuzzy haze. The kids did fine (even though some of them had more than one program), but as we progressed through the weekend, the adults seemed to proportionately drag. Being outside in the cold for the Live Nativity triggered more than a few sniffles by the time Sunday night rolled around.

Having three programs almost back to back was a big investment of time, effort, creativity, and "oomph." And a word of commendation: our kidmin leaders stepped up and excelled! But as the "leader," I should have known better. Children's pastors should minister to the leaders as well. I failed to look out for the health and well being of the men and women who served so faithfully. Not only that, but parents of kids who were in multiple performances not only had multiple commitments at church, but they had school programs as well.  By grouping three events close together, nobody had a chance to catch their breath.

There are no doubt more foul-ups throughout the 15 years I served as a Children's Pastor. I did not always make the best or wisest choices and sometimes I charged forward with an idea that really needed more refinement or wise counsel. The mistakes were there, but they carried with them important lessons that made our victories and accomplishments that much sweeter.

Did you have any notable blunders in your children's ministry? What did you learn? Respond in the comments below.

Friday, December 01, 2017

RANDOM THOUGHTS ON THE EVE OF DECEMBER

It's about 11:20 p.m. on the last day of November. Tomorrow (or perhaps today, depending on when you are reading this) is December 1. Thirty one days until the end of another trip around the sun for me and the start of a new journey (cryptic, enigmatic way of saying December 31 is my birthday). I've had a good night of study and I've listened to some Christmas music ("Santa's Sequel Sellouts", a volume from the annual revered Tanner's 25 Days of Christmas Music).

Since I'm not quite ready for bed yet, I thought I'd just string together a few random thoughts and observations. No sparkling prose here, folks, just good old fashioned "thinking through my keyboard."

It's been four years since I've written about the "War on Christmas." I think I'm due for another edition. But to summarize my position in as few words as possible, I think the expression "Happy Holidays" is silly, not sinister. Honestly, retailers, when you've got your store decked out in Christmas decorations, is anybody really fooled when you use "Happy Holidays?" Seriously? But on the other hand, the poor clerk who follows orders and says "Happy Holidays" is not the emissary of Satan out to destroy the Christian faith. All we have to do is smile, say "thanks," and maybe wish them a "Merry Christmas."

You'll have to read it to understand this, but Ezekiel 7 is pretty clear and understandable. And that's what makes it so unsettling. 

Old blog with new makeover: Telegrams From My Own Mind Field, written by O. Dean Neal. Agree or disagree, he has some interesting insights.

Grateful for the church's computer tech, who fixed an unsettling problem at my station with just a few keystrokes. Too bad all our challenges couldn't be corrected that quickly.

A little touch of melancholy: another year is passing by without being able to visit my home state of Colorado. Money and time always seem to be a factor. I'm not totally depressed, nor do I obsess over it to the point of distraction. I know the time will come. I have a list of things I want to do when I'm there, so the anticipation is good. So if you're family or friend from there, watch out! If I don't know when I'm showing up, then you sure don't know either!

One of my personal traditions when I drive home after Thanksgiving dinner is to put on Mannheim Steamroller's "Hallelujah Chorus", crank the volume up higher than usual, and, frankly, rock out as I'm driving. During the Christmas season, I also make it a point to listen to The Young Messiah, The New Young Messiah, and, of course, the traditional Messiah--yes, the whole thing.

Although this seemed like a short read, it has taken enough time to write that I now feel comfortable heading to bed. Good night one and all.