Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Five Minutes With Rob - by Ben Irwin

I don't know Rob Lacey nor do I know Ben Irwin. I wish I did.

This is just too powerful to not share with whomever decides to read it.

Recently my wife and I traveled to Wales to visit a friend who was dying of cancer. When we left a week later, I wondered how to begin putting the pieces of my faith back together.

As my wife and I navigated the maze of hospital corridors, I braced myself to face the worst. But nothing could have prepared me for the sight that greeted us as we walked into Rob's room. The person lying in front of me barely resembled the one I had last seen less than a year before. The weight loss was dramatic; he looked like a skeleton with flesh hung loosely over his bones. The only difference was that I know what Rob is supposed to look like. It took all his might to prop himself on his elbows as I sat down beside him.

He was a shell of the person he had been just a month before.

It was the third time in 10 years Rob had battled cancer. The first diagnosis came six months after he was married. The cancer returned a few years later, about the time Rob and his wife were expecting their first child.

A couple of years into Rob's second bout with cancer—-one that was supposed to end his life—it began to look like a miracle was happening. Gradually the cancer disappeared; the doctors could only scratch their heads. There was, the doctors admitted, no medical explanation for the cancer's disappearance. So Rob and his family did the only thing anyone can do in a situation like this: they basked in God's incomprehensible favor.

Fast-forward four years. The cancer came back—initially in his bladder, then his lymph nodes, too. To add a touch of cruel irony, less than a month before he died, Rob's wife gave birth to their second child, a beautiful baby girl.

It seems almost trivial, reflecting on what happened to me that day we visited my friend lying in a hospital bed, clinging to his life. But the fact is, I left the hospital a different person: my theology—all my neatly arranged ideas about God and His role in our lives—came crashing down.

If God is in complete control, doesn't that make Him responsible for Rob's slow, torturous death? Isn't He to blame for robbing a wife of her husband, depriving a son of his dad and denying a baby girl even the memory of her father? What grand purpose, what divine scheme could ever justify this cruelty?

On the other hand, even if God doesn't actually cause these things to happen—if He simply allows them to take place—is He any less responsible? If I had the cure for AIDS but did not share it with those suffering from the virus, society would hold me accountable for their deaths. Is God any less responsible if He has the power to cure cancer but does nothing?

That night when I crawled into bed, I was raging on the inside—furious with God for allowing my friend to die. Stunned that He was making Rob's wife and children endure all this.

The next day we went to see Rob one last time. He was asleep. Rest being such a precious commodity in his weakened condition, we chose not to disturb him. But as I sat at the nurse's station, writing our goodbye on a scrap of paper, I sensed something that felt absent the day before: God's presence.

It wasn't overpowering. The air was not thick with it. It was small, subtle—barely perceptible.

I didn't leave the hospital with answers to any of the questions that plagued my mind the day before. My theology and my ideas about God were still in a state of upheaval. But in their place emerged a new idea: Whatever else God may or may not be, He is present in our pain. He suffers with us.

Why He doesn't step in and simply put an end to the suffering now, I don't know. Believing that someday He'll make everything right doesn't make life easier now. But still, the fact that God was with Rob in the midst of his suffering was, at least, something. It was almost as if, on some level, God had cancer, too.

"He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases …" (Matthew 8:17, TNIV).

He didn't just "sympathize" with us. And He didn't just bear our "spiritual" sickness. The text says He actually carried our diseases.

When my wife and I decided to make the last-minute trip to Wales, we didn't know what to expect. We didn't know how we would be able to help. We simply couldn't stand the idea of sitting at home, sending up the occasional prayer while our friend across the ocean lay dying of cancer.

In the end, we traveled 4,000 miles to spend five minutes with Rob. But I wouldn't trade those five minutes for anything in the world.

Even though I had imagined us helping in more tangible ways, there was something about being physically present and standing at Rob's side and gripping his hand—it communicated something that couldn't be said in an email or a phone call. Sometimes it's not enough to tell a suffering friend you're praying for them. Sometimes you have to become the answer to your own prayer. When you ask God to send help, you have to be ready to become that help. What else could we possibly mean when we talk about being the hands and feet of Christ?

Our last night in Wales, as we gathered with mutual friends to pray for Rob, I realized that God is present in the midst of suffering because we are present in it.

We are God's presence.

Editor's Note: Rob Lacey, father, husband and author of The Word on the Street, a modern retelling of the Bible, passed away on May 1, 2006. You can learn more about his books at his website www.thewordonthestreet.co.uk.

Ben Irwin left the tropical state of Texas seven years ago to study theology in the frozen tundra of Michigan. These days he passes the time creating product for a Christian publishing company. He and his wife attend Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Graduation From 8th Grade

Ben Worley graduated 8th grade last week. The ceremony was just what you would expect - over-crowded and under-air-conditioned middle school gym, program that was of course too long, terrible sound system, and an overall painful experience.

Now before you crucify me for being a horrible parent, please know that in spite of all of these things, I loved every minute of it. Watching parents, family, and friends "show up" to support their 8th grader-becoming-a-high-schooler is among other things highly entertaining and it's just one of those experiences you love participating in......not to mention watching kids celebrate their past (3) years and now "move on" to the next (4) hopefully!!

So, CONGRATULATIONS BEN WORLEY - if I could write in your yearbook, I would write that you are one great, great guy with great hair and a great personality. (wow, that sounds so 8th grade, doesn't it?) Thanks for loving God, life, and people...

P.S. Man, you look great in a tie!!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Hilarious and Disturbing

If you have already seen this, then pardon the repeat. If not, go HERE, click on "King Of The Hill - Church", and watch the 5:00 clip.

I could blog about this for days, but it's really late, so I'm going to bed......

Monday, May 15, 2006

So You Think Anyone Can Do It, Eh?

For those of you who watch me do what I do and think to yourself, "what's the big deal, I can do THAT!"

If that's what you think, then this is for you.

Man, it makes me want an XBOX so bad........

Thursday, May 11, 2006

$120 Million Worth Of Art & Culture

Whoever thought that Nashville, Tennessee would spend $120 million on a Symphony Hall?

This place is something else......and I am someone who is excited to experience our Symphony in their new home.

If I don't get there before, I know I will be there on Friday night, April 13, 2007 and Sunday night, April 15.

My friend, Billy Ray Hearn approached David Hamilton and myself about a year ago with the idea of doing a Hymn-Sing with the Nashville Symphony in the new hall during their Inaugural Year. Because of his relationship with the Symphony, Billy Ray convinced them (mainly Alan Valentine, President & CEO) to do it, so it is on the books. David Hamilton will conduct the Nashville Symphony, and David, Billy Ray, and I are working with the Symphony Production Staff in putting together a wonderful evening of hymns that will feature the Nashville Symphony, a 290-voice choir, and special guest artists (yet to be named!).

It promises to be a unique evening in this beautiful new hall.

Get your tickets now - I promise it will be worth every penny you spend!!!

For more information on this incredible landmark and on the Hymn-Sing, check out these sites.....

Today's Tennessean Article

Hymn-Sing Event Information

Take A Glimpse Inside The New Schermerhorn Symphony Center - this is SO amazing!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

I Like What I Like - Southern Gospel vs. "All That Other Stuff"

This afternoon, I attended a most delightful service of music and worship that would best be described as "southern Gospel". I don't know why God made me this way, but I am glad He did - that "way" is that I really do love all kinds of music. I only care that it is presented with excellence (or to the best of their abilities), presented with great emotion, and those presenting it are authentic in their presentation. All were evident this afternoon.

I had the luxury of sitting out in the audience since I did not have any leadership responsibilities. Following the service, I had several similar comments from church members and (me being the "guy in charge of music" at my church), I figured I would receive such comments.......

"why don't we do more of this?"

"I was wondering when we were going to do more of this - after all, this music is the best music"

"there are plenty of groups just as good as this group - why not have more of them more often?"

I have learned that such comments "come with the territory". People are never more opinionated than in church (except maybe in politics), and personal musical preference certainly brings out the comments!

One of my personal spiritual "heroes" is Bob Kauflin. He wrote the following in his blog on Friday (regarding a recent conference where he led 3,000 men in worship!) -"The goal of our singing was simple, and in line with the conference – to incite our hearts to worship and our lives to godliness by painting a clear, compelling view of God’s grace in the Savior."

WOW - what a statement - using words like "incite our hearts", and "painting a clear, compelling view"....... oh, that that would be our goal whenever we gather to sing songs to Jesus and about Jesus......

Bob goes on to say the following -
"It seems that when it comes to worship, we tend to speak in polarized categories. Rock music or a cappella. Edifying or evangelistic. Planned or spontaneous. Reverent or celebrative. For God or for us. We determine who’s on our side, draw lines in the sand, and seek to discredit those who don’t see things our way. Rarely do we consider that God is so vast and our understanding so finite, that we often have to hold conflicting, or at least apparently conflicting, truths in tension. Or maybe we just have a hard time understanding how God made us different in some ways so that we might learn from one another.

In any case, humble, thoughtful dialogue in these areas may not change our view, but it will certainly help us become more like the Savior we worship."

I want to believe that those who made a point to come to me to tell me how much they loved this afternoon and wished we would do more of it would also be the very ones to embrace whatever it is we sing in worship so that "unity in our diversity" would be evident to all who observe our singing and our worship, but most especially be evident to the One we sing to and sing about......

Thanks to my "senior" friends for a beautiful worship experience this afternoon, and thanks to a quality southern Gospel group, Legacy Five for making me remember why I love southern Gospel music just as much as all that other stuff!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Applauding Greatness

I love to remember, and I love to marvel at greatness.

I got the best of both worlds this week when I picked up the newest CD of one of the most talented and awe-filled vocal groups ever - Take 6.

I had not heard anything recently from these guys (and did not realize just how much I missed it), so I took the plunge and made the purchase. I was not disappointed.

The first surprise was a stunning rendition of a song almost 30 years old by an artist who influenced me in ways I cannot describe.

"This Is Another Day" by Andrae Crouch came along in 1977 and had to be (at that time) one of the most refreshing recordings for me! I remember so many things about that recording, so to hear Take 6 "get all over" that song - well......you just have to hear it....

Then, later on the Take 6 CD, they do a song that is 50 years old - (appropriately titled) "Just In Time" - oh my.......way to go, guys!

I am thrilled that I get to appreciate songs written this year and those written 30 years ago and 50 years ago, and yes, even 300+ years ago (see my previous post). I hope you applaud greatness like I applaud greatness - it's a really healthy thing to do....

Do You Know This Man?

Probably not, but you might recognize his name, and you certainly know his legacy.....

(man, I wish I had his hair!)

This guy was an amazing songwriter in his time.....to be more specific, he was an extraordinarily prolific hymnwriter. Today, fewer hymns are being sung in churches and as a result, a new generation of worshippers is growing up possibly missing out on the depth and lasting effects of necessary theology on/in their lives. Well, this guy made sure that was not the case when he was around to make a difference.

Do you know any of these songs?

At The Cross
I Sing The Mighty Power Of God
Jesus Shall Reign
Joy To The World
We're Marching To Zion
O God Our Help In Ages Past
When I Can Read My Title Clear
When I Survey The Wondrous Cross

He wrote these and at least 490 more. He preached his first sermon at age 24, and his studies were impressive to say the least.

So, today I salute you,
Isaac Watts - you are an inspiration to many, and thank you for hearing from God and creating songs that the people of God are still singing some 300+ years later........wow!