Weeping and Rejoicing: One Church in One Week

This has been a whirlwind of a week.  Earlier this week our church lost a dear friend to cancer. Yesterday was her funeral. Many tears have been shed from the time that the doctors said they could do no more and many more will be shed in the coming weeks, months, and years.

Within hours after the funeral a different family was scheduled for induced delivery and in the early hours this morning, a little teeny tiny baby girl was born.  We as a church get to celebrate this joyous moment.

Yesterday: tears and broken hearts. Today: smiles and full hearts.  But in it all, the same God.  This God of ours planned these events in eternity past and has chosen us to be part of these families’ lives. The same God who calls us to weep with those who weep has called us to rejoice with those who rejoice.  And sometimes we get to do so within a 24 hour time-frame.  He gives; He takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

I used to be a fan of Southern Gospel (and I still enjoy a song here and there).  This song came to mind as I thought over the past 24 hours: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCTl4tUYIAg

Cafe Jesus

By the time this posts it will have been a few weeks, but as for when I write it, it has only been a day.  My wife and I went to a Family Christian Store that is closing and has everything marked 40-80% off (which is technically true, since all their Christmas stuff is 80% off, but everything else is 40%).  We found a few books and such, but there was this painting/print that I saw that I couldn’t help but like.  I’m not a guy who sees a painting and feels drawn to it, but I literally went back to look at it multiple times while browsing the store.  There was something I enjoyed about this painting.  I had to show Katie, but only after looking at it a half-dozen times or so myself.  She bought it for me! After all it was 40% off (not 80% though, because it wasn’t Christmasy).

The painting is one of a modern-day Jesus (with a white button-up shirt) sitting at the window in a modern-day coffee-house.  It is painted from the vantage point of outside looking in.  There are two cups of coffee on the table, but only Jesus is sitting.  No one else is around.  Jesus is just sitting, looking out the window, fingers crossed, as if he’s letting his mind wander (like anyone who is staring out a window).

The picture is inviting.  It is as if Jesus is waiting for someone to come join him.  He has an appointment with someone or the person stepped away for a moment or perhaps he is simply looking for somebody–anybody–to ask to join him.  There’s no anxiety on his face, no discouragement.  He’s just enjoying his coffee and patiently waiting for someone to strike up a conversation with him.

That’s what we do when we want to catch up with someone isn’t it.  “Let’s have a cup of coffee and catch up.”  When we see an old friend, “Got time for a cup of coffee?”  It’s great to be reminded that at any moment I can ask Jesus if he’s got some time for a cup of coffee.  He’s already there simply waiting.

That’s why I think I like this painting/print so much.  Every time I see it I want to just slow down and catch up with my Brother.  Tell stories together, laugh together, and “fix the world’s problems together.”  Perhaps I found this print so appealing because of what I had read earlier in the day.  I’ve been reading through Prayer by Tim Keller.  He wrote:

At the end of time, history will culminate in a great banquet (Rev 19:9), but as we have seen, we can eat with Jesus now.  How?  Through prayer.  Commentators understand that Jesus’ invitation to “hear his voice” and “open the door” so he can “come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Rev 3:20) is an invitation to fellowship and communion with him through prayer. (Tim Keller, Prayer, New York, Penguin Books, 2014, p. 140).

Seeing Jesus sitting at a coffee shop is about as big an invitation to fellowship and communion as our modern society knows.  In fact, I’m ready to have some coffee now.  I might just have two cups this morning; I have a feeling the conversation is going to be a good one.

By the way, as always I’d love to hear from you.  Below is a picture of the print.  I told you what I got from it; what do you get out of it?   Send me a comment.

How to Read More Books

Many people I talk to about reading find my way of reading impossible.  Perhaps I am a bit of a weirdo.  There’s no perhaps about it; I am, but if you are looking to read more books this year (and it’s still early to get on the reading band-wagon), I have some ideas that work for me.  They may work for you if you’re willing to try them.  By the way, I am by no means a speed reader.  I am a slow reader.

  1. Set a number that you want to read.  My personal goal is 32 (anything less than 100 pages is not counted in this goal).  Granted, my job allows for more reading, but most of my reading is at home on my own time.  Also granted, my kids are older.  The younger your kids, the harder it is to read.  But pick a number.  If you read 3 books last year, try 5 this year (or 6 if you’re feeling really adventurous).  If you didn’t read any books at all, perhaps you want to go with 3 books.
  2. What interests you?  If you’re a television watcher or a movie goer, what kind of stuff interests you?  That’s probably the type of book that will interest you.  Though that is not always the case.  Figure out what genre you like best and then second best, and possibly third best.  I love history, biography, and adventure.  Most of the books I read this year will have something to do with these genres.
  3. Read multiple books at a time.  This is where people look at me like I’m an idiot.  They can’t concentrate on more than one book.  But let’s face it, I’m a product of my generation.  My attention span is not that long.  A book can get boring very quickly.  If that happens, I try to find a good ending spot, close the book and open another.  It’s like changing stations on the television.  If a show isn’t any good, I go to the next one.
  4. Read one thick book.  I am currently reading God’s War by Christopher Tyerman.  This puppy is over 1,000 pages.  It’s my year-long book.  I only need to read about 3 pages a day to get it done.  Who can’t read 3 pages a day?  Pick up a thick book, divide it by how many days are left in the year, and start reading.  Just leave a mark where you left off.  I promise, while you do not remember everything, you will pick up much more than you think you will.
  5. Read a devotional.  Most devotionals are daily devotionals.  Usually they are only one page per day.  That means that in a year, reading one page a day, you will have a book completed.
  6. Simply commit to reading.  I use “Todoist” on my iPhone.  I actually have in there Read: God’s War, Read: Prayer, Read: C. S. Lewis, Read: Christian in Complete Armour.  I put these in there because: “out of sight, out of mind.”  If necessary put a specific time in your calendar to read.
  7. Don’t be afraid to quit books. This was some of the greatest advice I was ever given about reading. If there is a book that you’ve tried, really tried, to read, but you just can’t–You’d rather be water-boarded than open that book again, then quit it. Don’t waste time reading something you hate. There are too many good books out there. 
  8. Last one: don’t be afraid to use audio books.  I count these.  I don’t use them often; generally on long trips, but I do count them (if they’re paper version is over 100 pages).

Let me know your reading-plan.  This is how I do it.  It may not work for everyone, but feel free to share how you go about reading.  Let me know if this has helped you in your reading endeavors.  As always, I only ask for respect in responses.  You may think my ways are stupid.  That’s absolutely fine, just be respectful in how you phrase it.

Why I Read

When I was in school–many, many years ago–I hated to read.  I would do just about anything other than read.  From third grade until graduation I can only remember one book I actually completed: A Bullet for Stonewall, a historical fiction book about an assassin seeking to kill Stonewall Jackson.  If I remember correctly, I read that in sixth grade.  For whatever reason I signed up for Advanced Placement Literature my senior year.  While I passed the class, I never finished reading any of the assignments.  I tried to read one of the books: Grendel, but I only succeeded in reading half.

My lack of desire for reading was not lost on my teacher Ms. Miller.  While she was young, she was not an idiot.  I thought I was pulling fast ones on her, while I now see she was using my fast ones to pull off her own shenanigans.  Slowly, over the course of the year, I began to see the value of books, though the value was not necessarily for me.  I was about to find out just how wrong I was.

The last week of the school year (I failed my AP Lit test), Ms. Miller gave gifts to all her AP students.  Books!  Fabulous!  She purposefully picked out books she believed the student would enjoy, each receiving their own with a special message from her.  Some received books like Jane Eyre or To Kill a Mockingbird (you know, a classic); I received The Fall of Freddie the Leaf by Leo Buscaglia, a kid’s book!  Here I am–eighteen years old–and I get a children’s story for a graduation gift.  She must have known I was a bit embarrassed, and so she said something to the effect that she knew I didn’t like to read, but she really believed I would enjoy that book.

I took it home and read it.  So good!  One of my favorite quotes was when Freddie’s tree was being carved by some children.  While I would not agree with the final premise of the book (as I was a conservative evangelical pastor’s son and am a conservative evangelical pastor myself), I was flabbergasted at the gentle nature of death presented in the book.  About week and a half later my dad died.  While I was in pain having lost the greatest man I’d ever known, I was also at peace knowing there was nothing to fear, and that death was a gift and stage of life.  That book brought me to the realization that books have value…especially to me.

Since then I have loved to read.  I don’t do as much reading as I’d like or as I should, but I greatly enjoy it.  I do find it amusing that I am not a fan of fiction, as The Fall of Freddie the Leaf was indeed a fiction book.  I read fiction, but very little.  Non-fiction engages my mind and opens my eyes in ways fiction never has been able to do.  But I do give credit where credit is due.  I thank Leo Buscaglia for writing such a wonderful book and I thank Ms. Miller for buying me a copy and encouraging me to read it despite my embarrassment.