Saturday, October 15, 2011

1. Knee Listening

This is no way to fish, the young pastor said to himself. Even before he and his silver-haired friend Sam climbed into the boat with the tackle box and bait, Pastor Tony was already having a struggle in his soul.

Like so many times before, Sam knew he was invited along for no reason that had to do with catching fish. Sam was a genius at listening. If you wanted him to, he could listen to your woes all day long and not say a word to you. And if you told him not to say a word to anyone about your conversation – he could clam up like a lawyer. However… Sam was awful good at talking things over with the Lord.

Most folks don’t know it but Sam was a great ‘knee listener’. He loved to frequently get on his knees in his quiet place. With his head bowed and sometimes fingers resting on his oldest Bible, he’d say, “Dear Lord, You’ve showed me how much You love me. Tell me how to show you today how I can love you back.” Then for a half hour or more, he’d let God’s heart speak to his heart far better than two computers can talk to each other.

As Sam fished from the front of the boat he was totally aware that his young pastor friend was in mental deep water with no sight of shore or a lighthouse. Sam remained silent.

Tony cleared his throat and in troubled tones said, “Sam, I don’t know what the answer is. This would be a lot easier if I at least knew what questions to ask.” Almost in a begging gesture, he held an open hand palm up toward his silver-haired fishing friend. “It’s like I’m trying to put together a church building and one of the steel beams is missing. And I don’t know where it’s at or even what it looks like.” Sam remained quiet while waiting for an explanation.”

Tony continued. “Our Pastor’s Conference last week gave some very unsatisfying data showing that the church as a whole is loosing ground with each generation. Our church is too. Everyone worked hard to show we have all the latest tech tools to analyze our progress…and…decline. Sam, I know that ‘sin in the camp’ can certainly distance God’s working. But I don’t see that clearly as being the specific need. I just don’t know the right questions to ask God.”

There was a long long silence in the boat. Maybe Sam was doing some of his knee listening. Then without knowing exactly why, he told Pastor Tony, with a bit of sarcasm – “maybe ya need ‘nother computer.” Silver-haired Sam was old school – but with indoor plumbing, you understand. Maybe he was looking through bad glasses. Somehow it just seemed to him like all that technical talk and stuff crowded out what church services were REALLY about.

But he’d said it and was not a bit sorry he did.

Maybe ya need ‘nother computer.”

Friday, October 14, 2011

2. Smiling Fingers

Sam wasn’t all that great at putting his thoughts and feelings into words. In his mind’s eye he could clearly see, and almost hear, the ‘singing and sounding’ of long ago services.

Little 4 year old Nancy would be setting beside the piano player to turn the hymnal pages. Around them and the old upright piano everyone gathered as close as they could to watch those dancing fingers and praises to the Lord for all His goodness. It didn’t matter if you were hurting on the inside or out, your toes would get to tapping and with smiles and hugs throughout.

[Note: Unless you’re in a terrible rush, you’ll enjoy one of Sam’s down-home piano stories.]
- - - - -
With so many watching, little Didi was ever so careful to hold the hymnal pages in place but was captivated with the other pair of hands that moved so gracefully over the keys. Little Didi also had for her month of hymn-helping; the "responsibility" to count all the "blood" and "Bible" words, as they'd appear in the hymns that were played.

But those captivating fingers.... Didi decided an appropriate name for them would be Smiling Fingers. Yes, it had to be Smiling Fingers because every time they played, and Didi looked up, the worshipers in the little country church wore big smiles and seemed to forget their troubles for a time; joining in praises to the Lord. Little Didi felt kind-of important in doing her part because the pastor would start his message with all the people smiling.

Before service, one Sunday, Mrs. "Smiling Fingers" used some phrases from an old-favorite gospel hymn to help explain to her little helper that Jesus loves little hands, especially ones that have trusted Him as their Savior. The word counting responsibility was just a bit of reinforcement of foundational pieces of the Gospel message.

Didi's desire more than anything, was to acquire her own smiling fingers and be able to use them at home. How smiles were lacking at home. Daddy just splits wood all day long in the back yard with stooped shoulders and a "what's-the-use" long face. That started just after the coal mine her daddy worked at, closed down. The ribbon in mamma's hair disappeared about the same time the smiles did.

The next month's hymn-helper was Shawna... A camcorder was definitely needed a few weeks after Shawna began her month tour with Mrs. "Smiling Fingers." At an after service "Linger-Longer" (down-home name for a pot luck dinner) it was easy to hear someone playing the piano in a way only small children trying to imitate an adult, can do.

The scene to be forever cherished was Shawna holding a hymnal open with one little hand, and pretending she had smiling fingers with the other hand. "Benny! You get up here this instant and start counting the bloods and Bible's like you're supposed to," she chided.

Now her little brother Benny, still in three-cornered pants having just mastered crawling figured he'd concentrate on the pedals for now. Why not? No bloods and Bibles to count down here!

Pastor Jeff was taken back a bit seeing the Shawna-Benny duet. His lessons on 'discipleship in all things' was manifested by a brother and sister not even knowing the meaning of discipleship, plus… dedicated Smiling Fingers.
(end of story.)
- - - - - -

Sam thought about the new fancy piano the church got last year. It had a computer in it to automatically put the playing in a different key or sound, and synthesize it or something. The piano had a digital display that showed the hymn music without paper. No pages needed to be turned. Little Nancy wasn’t needed anymore. How tragic.

Another computer system projected the words and fancy background images on a super sized wall screen. Somehow it was like services these days were becoming more of a spectator sport. You didn’t even need to pick up a hymnal or Bible from the pew. Is there some way a ‘couch potato’ can also become a ‘church potato’?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

3. Another World

A strange feeling went all through Pastor Tony last Tuesday Morning. Most every Tuesday about 6 am before his church staff arrived, the young pastor would quietly walk through the whole church. He’d begin in the gymnasium, then sanctuary plus balcony, children’s church and then the 19 Sunday school rooms, most of which were downstairs.

He’d finished his rounds and returned to his office. Sitting on the sofa instead of his office chair, his heart was still searching for that critical steel beam – that missing question to ask; the question of how to keep children excited about church and God’s Word as they mature. His questioning eyes panned across his many shelves of books and printed reports – none of which seemed to offer any help just now. The bright window drew his gaze that stopped at his laptop computer and printer in a prominent position on his desk.

In a moment he remembered Sam’s sarcastic statement, “maybe ya need ‘nother computer.” Young Pastor Tony got the urge to go back downstairs to check out a hunch he had. The upstairs served most all the adult functions while the lower level was mostly youth focused.

He walked through each of the children’s church and classrooms looking for something in particular. He had covered most all the children’s rooms not finding even a hint of the thing for which he sought. In one of the toddler classrooms he almost fell trying to sit in a chair too short for him. His first question came to him.

  1. Why can I walk throughout most of the adult service and office areas upstairs and technology abounds? We even treat them as critical tools. But as soon as we walk down the stairs, any reference or images of technology disappear. Pastor Tony’s question he asked out loud, “Why does this seem to be another world for smaller humans?
    And why is it most every grandchild can work a home computer mouse? Public kindergarten classes use hands-on computer teaching tools throughout each day. Yet I see no indication that the children’s classes and curriculum of our church (and others) even recognizes that technology exists.
Tony urgently grabbed his cell phone to set up an appointment with his Sunday school superintendent for an evening discussion about these matters. He opened the cell phone, took a breath, and was about to voice dial the needed number, when he saw something strange on the shelf in the corner.

It seemed to be fashioned out of cardboard but not like anything he’d seen in church before – at this lower level world or the adult one upstairs. Holding the cell phone camera toward the cardboard thing he stored the digital picture in his phone and headed back to his office with his new found questions and a picture of that cardboard thing.

  1. What is that thing I just took a picture of?

In his office he spent the rest of the day working on his message for Wednesday. It included one of his all time favorite references for building vision and hope in his people.

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 1 Corinthians 2:9

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

4. Flour Power

Pastor Tony tapped the steering wheel with a bit of impatience and disgust in being caught in traffic here at the notorious Henderson and 23rd. He should have guessed this would happen in this 6pm going-home flood of cars. He was almost grateful that his cell phone rang to get his mind on other matters. His little caller ID screen said it was his hardworking Sunday school superintendent calling.

The phone was flipped open with a cheerful “Hi Mark. How’s my banker buddy?” “I’ve had a full day of meetings and just got home. It continually amazes me how people can have so much to say about things to be done, but don’t seem to get at it. Well… anyhow, Peg said you wanted to talk to me.” With a bit of a chuckle, “Am I in trouble again?”

The young pastor countered with, “No – absolutely not. Mark, is there any chance you and I can do lunch tomorrow? It’s my treat.” “Pastor I can meet you at Ben’s Bagels about 12:30. Would that work?” “Sounds great. That’ll work for me… 12:30 at Ben’s.” And the phone clicked off.

Pastor Tony made some morning visits and made sure to print out the picture of the cardboard thing he saw in Dan and Barbara’s Primary Sunday school class, the day before.

At Ben’s the waitress took the orders for sandwiches, banana nut muffins and iced tea. Tony asked the Lord’s blessings on the meal and also on the discussion. He then said, “Mark I want to thank you again for all your help in putting together our Pastor’s Conference. I’m truly proud of you and all our people.”

An object I saw in Dan and Barb’s primary class room has me puzzled and I hope you can shed some light on it. Here’s a picture I took of it. Where’d it come from? What’s it do?” He slid the photo in front of Mark. The cell phone camera didn’t do a very good job capturing the image but Mark recognized the cardboard thing that puzzled Pastor Tony.

Mark smiled big at Tony and slid the photo back to him and said, “That’s the beginnings of ‘Flour Power’.” Pastor asked, “What is this then…a Daisies and Dandelions Project for Primaries?” scratching his head to understand. “No… no… It’s Flour… F.L.O.U.R. Power. You know, like baking flour. Flour Power… Let me explain.”

Mark continued the conversation with details and good eye contact with the young pastor across from him. “About a week before the conference I met with Dan and Barbara discussing an idea they felt would help spark interest in their class and be a great method to help teach spiritual truths from God’s precious word. They both convinced me that we should move the cowboy and dinosaur themes toward the back burner and carefully integrate a computer flavor.”
Dan was adamant about the change not sending signals that we were to change our message or mission at all. They both are very sensitive to not offending anyone or their style. Barb mentioned that churches today have moved away from the opaque projector and overhead projector without changing their message or mission.”

Mark continued, “Barb went on to say, ‘Technology has allowed us to create and update our presentations tailoring them to the audience we’re reaching at any given moment. And I’m so glad we also keep a sharp eye on not watering down God’s message of Salvation and the God honoring life.’ Dan then told me that it is likely the church will give serious consideration to us using a computer theme to supplant some of the cowboy and dinosaur themes.’ Pastor, I suggested we work on developing the idea a bit, while keeping a close eye on the direction we’re taking. Do you agree?”

Pastor said, “Well it sounds good so far. But you still haven’t told me what the Flour… that’s F.L.O.U.R… stands for. I’m dying to know.” Mark asked, “Tony, if you’ll allow me, I want to explain that with a short story I ran across. I think we have time.” A nod from the pastor started the story.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

5. The Hymn Cake

Little Judy could hardly keep up with the small group of other children from the church nearby. The determination in their step reminded you of a group of soldiers on a mission. The children had come on their mercy mission to the nursing home several times before and the residents loved each and every visit. Most of the children brought small trinkets that could easily be held by some of the residents.

But today was just a bit different in the gifts they had brought. Judy’s older brother Ben had printed the words to several very old hymns he knew the nursing home residents loved and loved to sing. Ben had used his computer program to print the words extra large so those with poor vision could even read the words.

Tina came up with a wonderful idea when she had Ben print an extra copy of each of the hymns. She immediately took her copies of the hymns to the kitchen, and got a mixing bowl out of the cupboard. Little Judy was always interested in learning new things that are done in the kitchen. But in all her seven years she’d never seen a recipe that used hymns. This she had to witness for herself. 

Since Tina has a wonderful talent for recruiting anyone anywhere, Judy was given an apron a big wooden spoon to go with the mixing bowl. Tina carefully got a cup of flour from the flour bin and poured it in the bowl. Judy became more confused than ever. Some water was added to the flour and directions were given to mix the water and flour until all the lumps were gone. While the seven year old stirred dutifully, she would glance at the stack of hymn sheets and ask herself, “Am I making a hymn cake?”

All questions were answered when Judy’s mixture became the paste that glued the hymn sheets to thin cardboard like that found in store bought shirts, and on the back of paper tablets. Tina recruited her brother Ben to cut the “hymn boards” into varied shape pieces and the result being hymn puzzles for the nursing home residents.

So now you understand the reason for the great pride in little Judy’s step as she followed the other kids into the nursing home.

After all the gifts and puzzles were distributed, Judy walked over to old Mrs. Beemer. Without saying anything Judy pulled out one of the computer hymn sheets Ben had discarded at home. Little Judy handed it to the silver haired lady. Mrs. Beemer saw the misspelled words and the reasons Ben had trashed the page, but then she noticed at the bottom of the page a row of X’s and O’s ending with a heart surely drawn by a little girl.

Old Mrs. Beemer pointed at the X’s and O’s and then pointed at little Judy. Judy countered with pointing at her own chest and shaking her head yes. Across the room the rest of the kids couldn’t figure out why an old sheet of computer paper would cause an 83 year old lady and a seven year old lady to hug real big.

God’s message of love, hope, and Salvation is so rich and simple we can even use throw away sheets of paper to spread the love that began on the Cross of Calvary. (end of story)

- - - - -

“So you see, Pastor? Flour Power refers to objects created with cardboard, flour and water paste, computer flavoring, little hands, and often silver hair. And what you took a picture of is Larry the Laptop Computer – Flour Powered.”

Pastor Tony had a smile from ear to ear and his insides were revved up too. “Mark, you’re not going to top that today. How about you asking God’s leading and provision for this new ‘Flour Power’ and we’ll get to work. Both men could hardly keep their cool as Mark prayed.

Now you just know before saying amen, he quoted:

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into
the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love


Monday, October 10, 2011

6. Dewey and Larado

Dewey placed three clear knocks on Pastor Tony’s office door and waited. When pastor opened the door he saw two older men in clean worn clothes. One of the men only stared at the floor. The other man looked at the young pastor and said, “Mister Reverend, I’m Dewey and this here’s Larado. He hasn’t talked since the flood of ’72 took his wife and little daughter. We want to ask your permission.”

Tony put on his best smile and gestured the men to come in his office. Dewey glanced in the office door. Neither man took a step inside. Dewey held his hands up shoulder high in a stop position. He said, “Beggin’ yer pardon sir but we’ll not go in your office. Larado doesn’t cotton to any office fancier’n a pot-belly stove or a shade tree.”

In a cheerful tone Tony said, “Hey that works for me. Come with me, I got just the thing.” As the three walked toward a courtyard shade tree, Tony noticed Dewey never moved his left arm. It seemed to just hang free. Larado still never made eye contact with Tony.

The young pastor put a small red handkerchief half way into his sport shirt pocket. This was his sign to all his staff even from day one – ‘do not disturb me’. As the three sat on the ground in the shade Tony asked Dewey, “Fellas, I have a favor to ask. Will you both call me Tony if I call you Dewey and Larado?” The agreement was made.

Somewhere in the conversation a little dog walked up to Larado and started to lick the very quiet old man’s face. Larado began to caress the plain little dog that a flea wouldn’t give a second glance. Obviously the dog had never learned Tony’s ‘do not disturb’ sign; you know, the red handkerchief.

Pastor spoke first with, “Dewey you said you wanted my permission… ask away.” “Mister Reverend…er…I mean Tony… Larado and me aren’t any good at doin’ most things you need done. But our mamas raised us doers and no excuses. Well, we heard one of the Sunday school classes for youngin’s was going to start making some stuff out of cardboard. We’re here to volunteer to help with the cuttin’ ‘n pastin’.”

I’ll tell you right up front, Larado doesn’t even know what a computer is, and I’m half afraid of the fool things. But me and my best friend here figured that anything made out of paste and cardboard is as harmless as that little pup-dog. With my one bad arm I’d have to have one of the little hearts hold the cardboard while I cut it. ‘Course I’m great at one armed huggin’”.

The three stood up as Tony promised he’d think and pray about it. They’d get their answer in a few days. Dewey and Larado walked away with the dog taggin’ along. The young pastor leaned against the shade tree slowly rotating a leaf in his fingers. In his mind he asked the leaf, “Is this what flour power is? It bonds two pieces of paper together and also bonds silver-haired people wanting to do something important with children needing someone to care?

As he began walking back inside the church he shook his head. He thought, “Boy oh boy. College never taught me about Flour Power.” He stopped past the kitchen, made himself a cup of tea and picked up a brand muffin just beggin’ to be shown some attention. The office area was unoccupied as he went in his office, closed his office door almost all the way and took a seat in his high back chair.

His eyes scanned his shelves of books and said to himself, “Maybe I need to start a diary that says, “My life with Flour Power…” No sooner had he got the words out of his mouth than his eyes rested on his sermon notes and the red penciled words at the bottom of the paper:

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 1 Corinthians 2:9

The pastor turned his cell phone off, got out of his chair, went to the door, and quietly closed it all the way. He knelt at the sofa and folded his hands. What a perfect time for knee listenin’.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

7. Makin' a Darla

Sunday evening Pastor Tony stood in the foyer warmly greeting the families and folks coming to worship the Lord and enjoy down-home style fellowship. To stress the point, last year he put an honest-to-goodness rain barrel right next to the podium and preached about rain barrel rejoicin’ his grandpa would’ve been proud of. It must’ve been just about that time that Dewey and Larado started attending.

One of the smaller children came through the door and shot right past him – with a box in his hand, headed for Sunday Evening Children’s Church on the lower level.

Every so often other children scooted past him with empty boxes in their hands and faces all lit up and laughing.

Tony’s curiosity just couldn’t stand it another second. He decided he was going to question the very next kid he saw with a box. The greetings continued and shortly the door opened and in came Dewey and his best friend Larado. Pastor almost did a double take when he saw them both carrying an empty cardboard box. The young pastor asked Dewey, “What are all these boxes for? I’ve just seen quite a number of kids bringing them in and I sure would like to know what gives.”

In a hasty tone Dewey told pastor, “Me and Larado are going to make a Darla with the kids in Jr. Church. Beggin’ your pardon pastor but we don’t want to be a minute late. See ya!” Tony thought to himself, “OK they’re all making a Darla… so what’s a Darla? Does she talk or sing or cook or clean? What’s a Darla do? What’s she look like?” As he headed for the sanctuary with all his questions and no answers, he switched off his cell phone, straightened his tie in the mirror and set his mind on all the needy folks he’d be facing in a minute.

As the offering was being taken up, pastor quickly glanced at his message notes and the text he wanted to plant deeply in the hearts and souls of all those before him. He read them to himself again for focus:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

As the time for the message was at hand, Pastor Tony stepped to the podium as the sound booth video recorder was focused in on his first statements. Tony looked into the eyes of all the young families, the young adults, and a large group of silver haired folks, most of who had trusted Christ as Savior even before Tony was born. He felt so inadequate, so unqualified to advise these precious worshipers with all their burdens and bruises.

Almost without thinking, Pastor Tony blurted out in a stern tone, “WHO’S RUNNIN’ THIS PLACE, ANYWAY?” Like a little child running home he opened God’s precious word and with great tenderness read for all to hear: I’m reading in Isaiah 55:8-12:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

After the closing of the service and thanking the many folks for joining the service, Pastor Tony headed for the Jr. Church room where the kids were putting finishing touches on their Darlas before taking them home. Tony hadn’t noticed it before now that the group of excited youngsters included several children he was just sure had never been here before.

It took just a minute to see what they were doing with their Darla boxes. With a few quick answers from some of the builders it started to come together. Darla is the fictitious name of the cardboard desktop computer the children were making. So now it comes to light. Each box is a homemade Darla Desktop Computer. The small children will be learning next week how to use the computer to do fun things with their neighborhood friends and siblings.

Darla is no more fancy than Larado’s four-legged tongue and tail friend. It’s a tool. It’s a tool with a computer flavor to turn grade school and preschool children into missionaries. It is created with almost no cutting or other dangerous operations.