Tennessee, Florida… and Narnia

I began reading the Chronicles of Narnia nearly forty years ago, and I hate to admit it, but I haven’t finished them…yet. I bought the set when the kids were little, and still remember them sitting on my lap as we made it through The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I knew they were classics, written by C. S. Lewis for children, but reading them was like trying to watch something on BBC. You know it’s good, but you have to struggle a bit to make sure you’re getting it all. We gave up after barely making it into the second book, and the boxed set languished on a shelf until a month or so ago.

It was a feature article entitled “The Breath of the Lion” in Touchstone that drew me back to Narnia. The author was responding to the charge that Lewis didn’t include the Holy Spirit in his stories. God was there as the Emperor-over-the-Sea, and Jesus is presented as the great Lion Aslan, but where is the Holy Spirit?

The author begins by noting that while the Holy Spirit’s presence and enormous power is evident throughout the Bible, he speaks only five times and remains in the background. He then makes it very clear that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in Narnia.

“He strengthens, he gives courage, he brings new life, he protects, and he motivates toward right performance. In his breath, he imparts the essence of himself to his followers, placing within them the only power that can enable them to become more like him.” While drawing his article to a close he notes, “Thus, a fantasy story shows us the truth. Narnia reveals to us the kind of God we have— not only who is transcendent and powerful, but one who is also intimate and personal.”

Reading such led me back to the wardrobe, and then to a railway station, a picture in the bedroom, and an unlocked door. I’m not sure how I’m going to get to Narnia next, but I’m planning to get there while sitting poolside in Florida.

I’ll see you in two weeks when Marilyn and I return from a trip to Tennessee, Florida… and Narnia.

God Bless, Rick

Leading in the Church

It’s Monday afternoon, and we’ve just concluded the first meeting of our newly expanded church leadership team. As you know, Casey and Jonathan were recently affirmed, along with Paul and Chris, as elders of Chatham Christian Church. They, along with Mark and myself, will be meeting together regularly to hopefully discern the will of God for our church family in 2020. To introduce Casey and Jonathan to the eldership, we decided to meet for breakfast before spending the morning together in study and discussion.

We began our time together with a brief look at our congregational history and the basic expectations and responsibilities of elders. We then looked a recent article from Christianity Today that exposed the danger in viewing leadership in the church as it is viewed in the corporate world, and encouraged the church to “put the pastoral dimension of all Christian leadership in the driver’s seat and let the CEO dimension sit in the back.” The article noted the tendency to “talk the talk of servant leadership but walk the walk of ‘Gentile rulers’ who ‘lord it over’ others.”

We then read a sermon on leadership that was presented at a pastor’s conference I attended in California back in 1979. It’s a message that we have reviewed several times over the years at elder’s retreats and extended meetings. It’s also a message that may have helped the four “dynamic, gifted, movers and shakers” that were listed in the CT article avoid the mistakes that led to their downfall.

The thrust of the message is simply that leaders in the kingdom must lead by serving others, and not by trying to lord it over anyone. The stick figure diagram of servant leadership was compared to the typical pyramid structure of leadership on the printed copy of the sermon. If you want to read the entire sermon it can be found at chathamchristian.org under “About Us.”

God Bless, Rick

My Grace is Sufficient

Never underestimate the influence of a granddaughter!

The Hunleys had gone out to eat for Anna’s birthday on Saturday night, and hadn’t planned on going out to eat again on Sunday. That meant Grandma and I could go to MCL! But then, while bemoaning the fact that we would have to eat alone, Grace mentioned she needed to go to town for a few things. As long as we would change the location of dinner, she would be happy to go with us. We were glad to exchange our Jack Benny Roast Beef for time alone with Grace.

After dinner we went shopping. I’m not sure how she planned on shopping without any money, but we were glad to pay for a few things. I just didn’t realize how much it would end up costing me.

In the midst of engaging dinner conversation, Grace started talking about going back to Mexico to build another house. Then she asked the $500 times two question: “Why aren’t you going Grandpa?”

My immediate response was that I had been on ten mission trips to Jamaica, and that I was now too old to go. She reminded me that Judy was older when she went, and continued to counter my every reason not to go. She even assured me that sleeping on the floor of a church was comfortable with an air mattress, and that I’d be so tired I’d go right to sleep anyway. I eventually said I’d think about it, and the more I thought about it, the more my reasons for not going vanished.

Two years ago I really didn’t feel that I had the strength to go. My lack of endurance had been made evident on a family trip to Disney World, and I thought it was just because I was getting older. Now, however, I know at least some of it was because of Afib. Since that has been successfully addressed, I’m in better shape now than I was then. And I didn’t take the CPAP with me to Europe, so I guess another week without it won’t hurt.

When the Apostle Paul complained about physical limitations he was told, “My grace is sufficient.” It looks like my Grace is sufficient as well.

Marilyn and I are now planning to join the crew going to Mexico to build a house in June. If you want to make it easier for an old preacher, there is still room for more workers.

God Bless, Rick

A Pair of Swords

While on His way to the Garden of Gethsemane after celebrating the Last Supper with His disciples, the same Jesus who taught His followers to turn the other cheek said something that many find hard to believe. He said to His disciples, “When I sent you out without purse and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you? But now, let him who has a purse take it along, likewise also a bag, and let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one.” (Luke 22:35-37) The disciples responded that they had two swords, and Jesus said that was enough.

Apparently there is a time and a place to use a weapon in defense of others, or yourself. And as Peter demonstrated by swinging wildly and slicing off the ear of the high priest’s servant, it’s also imperative that if you carry a weapon you must become proficient in its use.

Sadly, the need to protect followers of Christ, and the need to know how to use defensive weapons, was demonstrated in a Church of Christ in Texas last week. As the Lord’s Supper was being served, a disturbed individual who had not been satisfied by the minister giving him food instead of money, pulled out a shotgun and killed a man who was passing communion, and another who attempted to stop him. Within six seconds he was, however, stopped by the head of the church’s volunteer security team.

In light of renewed concern about the threat of a violent intruder into a house of worship, I want to assure you that we have taken steps to keep everyone as safe as possible. Several of us attended a Sheepdog Seminar a few years ago where we were taught how to protect the flock, and we do have armed individuals in our worship services who train regularly. We also lock the doors shortly after the services begin, and the children’s worship leaders and nursery workers have been instructed to take the children to the outdoor nursery playground in the event of an intrusion.

If the need for defensive action to be taken should ever arise, it would be very helpful if everyone would take cover in the pews for a few moments, before going to make sure their children are safe.

Obviously, we pray such action will never be needed.

God Bless, Rick

Are You Regular?

Remember the perfect attendance pins that were worn with pride many years ago? The first year you had perfect attendance at Sunday School you were awarded a nice little pin to wear on your lapel, and every year thereafter you were awarded a banner that was attached to it. I think I did win a pin, but I know I didn’t have one with ten or twenty banners hanging on it, as did some of the adults who had come faithfully to Sunday School since childhood.

I’m not advocating a return to the pins, but I do think it would do us all good to give prayerful consideration to our attendance in worship, if not Sunday School, as we begin a new year.

It’s been well reported in the media that church attendance in the US has been declining for several years. That’s old news. What was new news to me is that what is considered to be “regular” attendance has also been changing.

I recently read that while attending three Sunday’s a month was considered to be “regular” a few years ago, now attending just once a month is considered to be “regular.” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at that.

Unless failing health or extenuating circumstances are a play, I can’t believe anyone would think their attendance in worship is “regular” if they only made it once a month. Do you?

God Bless, Rick