Monday, January 21, 2013
Posted by Bruce Kokko at 8:13 PM
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Every so often a person enters your life who makes a significant positive impact. My dear wife, Sara, is one such person in my own life. I cannot imagine my life without her. But others have come in and out of my life over the years who have also made a positive difference. Some of these old friends who had drifted away because of life changes, have since reentered my life in a new season for us. That's what I've observed about true friendships, you can always go home again and pick up as if you had only departed company the night before.
Now, a dear friend, mentor, and pastor of twelve years has retired to move away to a new venue in another place. And he will be sorely missed by all of us he has left behind, here, and especially me.
Dr. Harry Shields was the one who married Sara and I. The simple transforming truth--a teaching and preaching concept championed by him over his august career--he gave us and those in attendance on that beautiful, sunny, warm afternoon through his homily has been instrumental in keeping our marriage strong and healthy all these years; it was this: "Keep your eyes fixed on the conductor." Sara and I have never forgotten this--not that Harry would let us, because the message of keeping our full attention on Christ has been central to all of his teaching. And rightly so, because Christ is the core of the Gospel. Thus, it isn't the transforming truth that has sustained our marriage, but the transforming power of our living Lord.
I will miss the post-service discussions with Harry in the cool serenity of the empty sanctuary. Many times Harry and I have conversed about theology, new book titles, family issues, church issues, or even humorous anecdotes in this setting. How can one begin to assign a value to such a simple joy of two kindred spirits in conversation? It cannot be done; it is priceless.
Perhaps you find all of that rather dull and uninteresting. But it is such encounters which make the more exciting experiences of life meaningful and vivid, and make the more terrifying moments bearable.
Indeed, a great lie is the notion to live means to keep one's self in a perpetual heightened state of varied distractions--from rockus music, roller coaster rides of all sorts of flavors, to a smorgasbord of stimulants to feed and gratify--and yes, multiply--our appetites. The vast majority of humanity see living like a wall of mail slots you sometimes see behind the desk in posh hotels; life to most people these days is making sure each little cubbyhole has been filled; our culture has described it as the bucket list to be checked off before death. Not that there is anything wrong with running the rapids once and awhile; the mistake is to believe this is the whole of what it means to live. No, real living is found in the quiet, honest, and transparent relationships that begin between us and God and then proceed between each of us under His direction. It is these encounters filling in and around the adventures of life that nourish us for growth. And the health they engender is eternal.
Harry is a great man because he has never forgotten the primacy of relationships and has faithfully modeled the principle for us. Harry's determination to foster and maintain relationships under the auspices of the Christ has made him an extraordinary human being. For this reason, as is also true of my wife, you want to be around him; because the power of love is so evident, you will always find certain rest in his presence.
People such as Harry and my wife have discovered that the universe was created by God who is both infinite and relational, and so the universe will not function short of healthy relationships; the cubbyhole philosophy just won't cut it. As Harry has modeled for us, healthy relationships take time and an investment of ourselves because that is what true love is. The cubbyhole mentality might have a compartment labeled, "relationships," but sadly, all one will likely find there is a bunch of associations. The "cubbyholist" views relationships as nothing more than just one more thing to fill out his or her life.
The truth is, relationships are life. For relationships to be right, we must first be in a right relationship with our creator; it can be no other way. This is why God entered our world: to first restore our relationship with Him so our relationships with each other can be restored, and His creation can then be brought back to the state He intended it to be, all along.
Thank you, Harry, for not only tirelessly preaching this great principle of kingdom life, but for consistently practicing your preaching. God has taught Sara and I and many others much through you; we will miss having you at church this Sunday. No doubt, God will send someone else to teach us other important lessons. Just know how much you are and have been appreciated.
Fortunately it doesn't need to end there for any of us. Harry has put together a personal website where we can all go and learn more trhough him.. Check outat caringforsouls.com.
Posted by Bruce Kokko at 3:48 PM
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Late on Christmas Eve we watched the Christmas Eve service at the Vatican. My wife and I were deeply moved by the proceedings and the important message given by Pope Benedict. During all of this, someone in the room with us asked, "What spiritual benefit is there in any of that. It's nothing more than pageantry." I said nothing because I was tired, but more importantly, because it was a rhetorical question. It was really a criticism--nay, a repudiation--couched in a question.
Now I would like to at least ponder what this person was suggesting. I will answer the question with another question: What is the spiritual benefit of the banal, austere, drab, and, yes, rote ceremonies typical of so many protestant services?
I do get the person's alleged concern. In this person's thinking, all the pomp and circumstance of the high church service equals spiritual complacency, ritual, and worship without substance. And I would quickly agree that to many of those attending St. Peter's that night, all that pageantry was nothing more than just one more bulb to be hung on this year's Christmas tree. But am I supposed to believe such hypocrisy is avoided by reducing the service to the din of rock music, kiddie recitals, and Silent Night sung in a large auditorium lit only by hundreds of candles held high by the happy attendees? Sorry, all too many attending that so-called "sincere" service only saw it as seasonal entertainment.
The pomp and circumstance, or the lack thereof have no bearing whatsoever on the spiritual benefit to those attending. The spiritual benefit comes solely from an emptying of one's self to the splendor, beauty, power, and ineffable love God has shown us through the unexpected, humiliating, and austere incarnation of Himself in a human infant. Jesus, which means, "God saves," and Christ, which means, "The Anointed One," is the Emmanuel,"God with us."
God didn't display such awesome power for our entertainment. He came as He did because we are a lost and doomed people. And even though we didn't deserve it, God has intervened to save us from ourselves. Because that infant child laying in a manger would grow up and obediently enter death for us by dying on the cross, and then overcome that death by being raised to life, and then ascend to heaven to rule over all from the right hand of God, we no longer have to live in fear of death; we no longer are without hope; we are no longer a marginalized and beaten humanity. No, all of that is past for us if we simply trust this Jesus for our life, purpose, meaning, and provision.
In the presence of such good news, in the power of such love, shouldn't the question become, "How can any of us fail to fall prostrate before God in total adoration, reverence, awe, and abandonment?" The venue we find ourselves should have little bearing on our response to our Good, powerful, Creator, God. Who God is, and what He has accomplished should bowl us over with little provocation from outside stimuli.
Until we come to fully comprehend just how much God loves us, I'm afraid our church services, whether high or low, will tend to devolve to routine.
Having said all that, doesn't God deserve the pomp and circumstance? Check out the throne room descriptions recorded in the scriptures (e.g., Is. 6:1-8). They simply aren't low key affairs. I think the Roman and Eastern Orthodox churches have made a valuable contribution to worship by trying to replicate the ecstasy and beauty of the throne of heaven. The only caveat I would have to this is the Lord would not have us stay there, but go out into the dark, tormented world and spread the light of His love. The administration of mercy to the afflicted--regardless of who they might be, or disposition we might find them in--is the kind of pomp and circumstance that will always result in spiritual benefit.
Posted by Bruce Kokko at 2:03 PM