Tag Archive: Life

It’s Derby week here in Louisville.  We’re approaching the end of a two-week festival complete with parties, concerts, parades, and invitation-only galas.  The county schools participate in the drama by canceling school on the Friday before Derby Saturday.  Patients cancel appointments.  Roads close.  Attendance at church dips.  A variety of races dot the schedule – a hot air balloon race, running marathons, steamboat races.  And, oh yeah, the actual horse race on Saturday evening.

The Kentucky Derby festivities are…how shall we say it…holy and sacred to many around the city.  The festivities have been consecrated and sanctified by years of pageantry and tradition.

The Kentucky Derby festival is undoubtedly part of the Local Liturgical Calendar (LLC).

Each city has such a calendar.  It includes the events and traditions that give rhythm to the city’s happenings.   The calendar provides an ordering for expectation and planning.  It’s as if the city’s collective mood rises and falls in anticipation and completion of each event.

In addition to the Derby, Louisville’s LLC also includes (among other events): University of Louisville football and basketball in fall and winter, the Kentucky State Fair in August, high school graduations, the St. James Art Fair, days at the Waterfront, and evenings at the Bats games.

While I lived in St. Louis I learned that their LLC centered on the museums, the Arch, and the professional baseball, football, and hockey teams.  In Durham, NC the LLC involved Duke and UNC basketball along with the famous Durham’s Farmer’s Market.  From Charlotte to Greensboro the calendar revolved around professional football, NASCAR, the banking industry events, and concerts.

I was reminded of the hallowed Louisville and Derby events recently when I scheduled a confirmation class retreat.  Without intention I scheduled the overnight retreat on the same day as Thunder over Louisville.  Having been away from the city for a few years my internal attunement to the local calendar was amiss.  Fortunately, those better in sync with the local calendar called to gently remind me that some families would likely have a conflict.  (I should say, they never suggested I cancel or change the retreat (and we didn’t).  They genuinely cared that the children, their families, and I be open to all the happenings and how persons might be affected.)

But herein lies a problem…

Part of the Local Liturgical Calendar problem is churchly and pastoral.  On one bulletin board in my office there is a county school schedule, a minor league baseball schedule, and this coming fall’s UofL football schedule.  To what extent do we, as church leaders, plan around such events?  How do we incorporate the local calendar into the church calendar?  Which calendar takes precedence?

The other dynamic of the Local Liturgical Calendar is personal.  We might ask ourselves, What schedule gives rhythm and meaning to my life?  Do church events earn the same ink or space on my calendar as other local, family, or professional appointments?  After which calendar do I pattern my life?  Does the Church’s liturgical year – that calendar of scripture readings, feast days, and color changes in the sanctuary – matter to me?

Part of the beauty of the church calendar lies in it’s structure and rhythm.  Starting in December it traces the story of God’s activity from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany to Lent to Easter to Pentecost.  Tuning ourselves in to the sacred story provides order in the midst of our frenzied culture.  If it’s chaos we fear, it’s order that the calendar provides. When we participate in the church’s liturgical year we relive for ourselves the sacred story, making it matter here and now.

Is this crazy?  Is it even remotely possible to pattern our lives around a calendar that may seem archaic, distant, or superfluous?  Admittedly, we’ll never “get ahead” in a business sense by attending a bible study instead of a networking seminar.  But it is even a little possible…to make room, to raise the priority level, to create space..for the church’s calendar?

This is not a post to harangue everything Derby.  I ran the mini-marathon.  I watched the fireworks.  I enjoy the Waterfront Chow wagon.  I love the balloon glow.  And, on Saturday, I’ll gather with friends and family to eat, watch the races, and pull the name of a horse out of a hat, hoping that beautiful creature might win the race and earn me a prize.

But then, on Sunday, I’ll go to church…


Song of Solomon 2:8-13  –  “Arise, my love, and come away with me.”

Whether your Bible refers to the Song of Solomon as the Song of Songs or Canticles, we might blush or squirm at the words of main characters.  At times their love is portrayed in a “PG” way, but at other moments the language warrants an R-rating.  We may even chuckle at the way the lovers describe one another.  Try telling your spouse that his or her hair is like “a flock of goats descending from Mount Gilead (4:1), or that their teeth are like a “flock of sheep” (4:2). We are quickly reminded that this is ancient Hebrew poetry, not contemporary prose.  Yet, the Song of Solomon is Christian Scripture.

Throughout the history of the Church, the Song has been interpreted in a variety of ways.  Some believed it was simply a love poem between two lovers.  Others argued that the Song was a secular ballad.  Traditionally, however, many Christians (including John Wesley) believed that the love presented in the Song alludes to God’s love for His people.  In that way, I think the some of the most beautiful words in the Song come in 2:10 and 2:13.  One lover cries out to the other, “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away with me.”  I imagine that these are God’s words to us.  God beckons us, calls out to us, to come away from whatever it is that distracts us and spend time with Him.  We become busy, fearful, and stressed.  We are seduced by the world away from God. But God still calls, “come away with me.”

Do you hear God calling?  Do you hear God pleading for you to spend time with Him, to give Him your attention, focus and love?  Whether you feel intimately close to God or far off from God, we are never too far away that God’s voice can’t reach us.  Maybe your relationship with God is one of head-over-heels mutual love.  Or maybe you’ve been in an on-again, off-again relationship with God.  Whichever describes us, we know that God’s grace prevails.  We can never wander too far away that God can not call us back.  “Arise, my love, and come away with me.”

Ephesians 5:15-20 – Words for the wise

“Live wisely,” Paul exhorts.  “Not foolishly or drunk on wine, but wisely filled with the Spirit.”  Wisdom.  To be wise.  We don’t talk much of wisdom in our world.  We speak of being smart, intelligent, and successful.  Wisdom is something we relegate to past generations.  Yet, though we don’t think of it often, I suspect it is a virtue we all wish to possess.  In our rush to gain wisdom we often bow down at the altar of television sages such as Dr. Phil, Judge Judy, and Homer Simpson.

However, Scripture informs us that the world’s wisdom pales in comparison to God’s wisdom.  As Paul writes to the Corinthians, God has made foolish the wisdom of the world (1 Cor. 1:20).  God calls us to be wise in God’s own ways.  The Psalmist proclaims: “God looks down from heaven to see if there are any who are wise, who seek God” (Ps. 53:2). Godly wisdom is to seek God.  To be wise is to seek God.  To be wise it to kneel at the altar of the Almighty, to seek and “know what the Lord’s will is” (Eph. 5:17).

Note for our students heading off to college (and others going back to school):  Proverbs 2:4 says to “seek wisdom as silver.”  It doesn’t say, “seek silver.”  The world, your professors, and many around you will tell you to seek silver, seek wealth and riches.  Education, for many, is the pursuit of silver.  But God’s Word offers a righteous alternative: seek wisdom.  Seek God.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 – Paul’s ‘rules’ for a new life

Ephesus Library
Ephesus Library

Paul offers bold words, and calls for a bold and daring way of life. Ephesus was a major place of travel and commerce. The city was home to the Temple of Artemis. Antony and Cleopatra wintered there several times. Ephesus was decidedly pagan. Yet, to those Christians gathered there Paul invites, or calls, them to a different way of living. Paul urges that a life of integrity, compassion, and love is the Christian way.

Paul’s words resound as boldly today as they did then. The Letter to the Ephesians calls today’s Christians to a bold way of living, a way of living that is distinctly different than the world around us. When the world validates lying, Christians are called to speak truthfully. When anger and hate reign, Christians stand as witnesses to compassion and love. As gossip and slander become the norm, Christians remember that true conversation should build up one another. Christians are ones who stand on God’s side.  They are those whose loving and compassionate lives offer a bold witness in a desperate world.

Are we taking every opportunity to tell the world we’re on God’s side? Does how we spend our time, energy, and money show to the world that we live on God’s side? Paul calls all Christians to be “imitators of God.” Paul might ask: Do our lives imitate the world…or do our lives imitate God?

What is it about old stuff?

“Old Books and Bibles”

The other day I ventured into the Liberty Public Library in search of a book.  I sought a classic novel to add balance to my school and church reading.  Ultimately, I left the library with an old high-school favorite, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.  When I got home and opened the book a pungent smell hit me.  A musty, almost choking odor steamed up from the pages.  “How old is this book?” I wondered.  Unfortunately, the only date I could find on the book was recorded in the copyright information: 1937.  Since the novel was first published in 1937, I guess it’s possible that I held one of the first copies.  Later, after doing a little more research, I learned that the publisher of this copy is no longer in business (thanks, Google).  The only other helpful information I found about my book was the cost.  Printed on the dust jacket it read: “$2.45 a copy.”  I wonder how long ago it was that a hardback book cost $2.45?  Nevertheless, I held in my hands an old, used, and seasoned book.

Thinking of books, I had a similar experience recently while cleaning the “Pastor’s Study” at church.  As a first step in my attempt to transform the study into a prayer room, I undertook the challenge of cleaning the study-turned-storage room.  (The pastor’s studying is now done in the office at the parsonage.)  As I sorted through old Charge Conference reports from the late 70’s and 80’s, Sunday school lessons, and canned food (yes, food in mason jars) I stumbled upon an old Bible.  The spine was cracked, the pages were yellowed and dog-eared, and the cover was faded, but it was nonetheless a Bible.  I was fascinated.

What is it about old items such as library books and Bibles?  They seem so fascinating…so intriguing…so mysterious.  As I read through the library book I noticed underlined words, drink stains, and watermarks.  Who made these marks?  Was it a student?  Was it someone famous?  A scholar, perhaps.  Or maybe a factory worker.  Likewise, as I held the old Bible in my hands I asked myself, “I wonder who owned this Bible?”  I wondered whose life the book affected.  Who carried this Bible to church every Sunday? Who drew their inspiration from this particular collection of Scriptures.  Whose life was changed by this Book?  I wanted to know the story behind the printed copy of the Greatest Story ever told.

Do you own old books such as these?  Do you ever stop to wonder about the history of these books?  Where they have been.  Who owned them.  What influence they possess.  Our churches and homes are filled with these old, curious, and alluring books.  Hymnals and Bibles rest on bookcases waiting to share their history with someone, waiting to inspire the next pair of hands who pulls them from the shelf.

Tuning in to God

The other day someone asked me, “Where do you come up with your ideas for a sermon?  Where do you get all those illustrations?”  Maybe you’ve never wondered yourself, but I actually get asked these questions quite often.  People are always curious, “Where did you get that?”  While I sometimes feel compelled to offer a sermon on sermon illustrations, I usually refrain, keep my answer simple, and say: “Just look around.”

A lot of people probably think there’s some book or website that preachers turn to when in need of a sermon illustration.  And yes, those resources certainly exist.  However, my best and favorite illustrations of God, Christ, His love, etc…come from my daily experiences.  Indeed, just take a look around your own daily routine.  Look at the scenery on your drive to work.  Pause to observe the people sitting in the restaurant, cafeteria, or grocery.  Listen and reflect on a conversation with a family member or colleague.  God’s presence permeates these places and situations.  God’s love for you and your neighbor is at work in many different places and in many different ways.  God reveals himself to us in these ordinary, mundane, and seemingly simple tasks.  It’s our responsibility to take the time to notice.  It’s our joy to experience Christ constantly in our day-to-day living.  Once you open your eyes and ears and tune in to God’s activity in your life, you’ll be surprised at all the noise God is making.

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