Trees In The Forest

In the middle school class that I teach on Sunday mornings, we’ve been in the Psalms of Ascent. We stopped down in Psalm 126 for a bit. It reads:

“Psalm 126

A song of ascents.

When the Lord restored the well-being of Zion, we thought we were dreaming. At that time we laughed loudly and shouted for joy. At that time the nations said, “The Lord has accomplished great things for these people.” The Lord did indeed accomplish great things for us. We were happy. O Lord, restore our well-being, just as the streams in the arid south are replenished. Those who shed tears as they plant will shout for joy when they reap the harvest. The one who weeps as he walks along, carrying his bag of seed, will certainly come in with a shout of joy, carrying his sheaves of grain.”

Laughing loudly. Shouting for joy. Happy. Based on the reality that God had done great things for them.

Sure, there’s balance in the Psalm, too. Things didn’t appear to be going so well currently. Notice the verb tenses.

But there’s also a confidence that blessings will be back after the seeds get planted and grow.

As a teacher of the Word, well, you pray a lot. Those of us that take that task seriously do, anyway. Sure, we study. We plan…even getting meticulous with illustrations and time spent on what the text spends time on and all that jazz. But when you pray a lot and take it seriously the study can wind up going off the prepared notes a bit. It happens.

And I started thinking of what laughing loudly and shouting for joy and being happy and feeling like you’re in a dream might look like.

I thought about parades celebrating a sports championship. In Dallas, the most recent was when they paraded the Stanley Cup through town 8 years ago. The heavy-metal band Pantera had their own float because they wrote & performed this chant the fans do in the playoffs. Rumor had it the famed trophy had to be hammered out to original form because the players, well, really enjoyed the celebration and invited the trophy along for the ride.

I thought about that scene in the movie Animal House where Otis Day & the Knights played the Delta Tau Chi toga party with that song “Shout.” How much fun they were having. How they really were shouting and laughing, even when they were singing a little bit softer now. They gatored. They let it rip in response to that evil Dean Wormer’s feeble attempts to kick them off campus.

I thought about that really fun scene at the end of Shrek where they were all dancing at the wedding to “I’m a Believer.”

I thought about how surreal it was in 1980, with so much going against the USA at the time, how a bunch of college kids wearing red, white & blue, beat the Russians in a hockey game and made the entire country dance and wave flags.

I thought about when we had some friends from a Messianic Jewish congregation come and lead a Passover Seder at our church…the evening AFTER their Passover Seder. They brought dancers and musicians and led us in a two-hour version of what took them all night. It wasn’t their Seder they lead for us that got me thinking. It’s the fact that, while we were helping them set up and everything how they were all carrying on about how exhausted they were from being up all night eating, drinking and dancing and carrying on. And then they were excited to be doing to do it again in condensed form!

I thought about how my friends at Texas Tech text messaged me with photos of storming the field after their exciting win over Texas a few weeks ago.

I thought about the first time I saw my wife on my wedding day and really, truly feeling like I was in a dream. How a girl that great would marry a slug like me was beyond my comprehension. Even more mind-boggling is that she’s stuck around for twenty years and gives me indications that my feelings for her are reciprocated.

I could go on. We all have our images of celebration and joy and dreams fulfilled…even if we might feel like we’re planting seeds at the moment and waiting on some harvest to come. I don’t feel that way at present, but some folks I know happen to.

And I’m supposed to be preparing some sort of update for a meeting at our church next Sunday of the stuff that God has been doing in and around the ministry to which I have been entrusted…and images pop into my head:

I think about the mom who reluctantly went on a weekend retreat with middle schoolers because we needed some moms to go at the last minute…and she wound up being around when God wanted bring a middle schooler into a relationship with Christ.

I think about our little Tuesday night worship band that is led by a college student, and comprised of middle and high schoolers, who put a song on their MySpace page. Well, a lady who puts on Christian concerts in our area stumbled across that page and, well, our little Tuesday night worship band led by a college student and comprisd of middle and high schoolers has a gig on December 14. It only costs $9 to see the show with 4 other bands thrown in.

I think about one of my high school students who never really showed much growth outwardly because he’s the kid in the back of the room cutting up most of the time…who told me that he prayed with a middle schooler in his small group who wanted to accept Christ’s free gift. Oh, yeah. He had a friend who wanted to also. One of my college students helped that one along.

I think about the four new small group leaders who are having a blast preparing their studies each week for their high school groups. It’s really cool how excited they are and how much they’ve bought in to the ministry we’re working in…and how much fun their students are having, too…even when the stuff they’re learning requires change and deep-thinking. Even in counting the cost there’s joy.

I think about the 24 teens who took our True Love Waits class. Even in my cynicism for the long-range prospects for the students (the statistics bear me out on that one, so I’m tempted say it’s realism, but I’ll give my students the benefit of the doubt there, and just blame my cynical nature), it’s cool to see them agree with God on what’s right and wrong. Heck, it’s even good to see them be idealistic and spend time with their parents going over Scripture. It’s good to see that they understand that God can make the rules and obedience is the best course of action, even if they hit some speed bumps on this particular one.

I think about how obvious it was to see God at work in bringing us our Director of Middle School Ministries. That process had a lot of detours and rabbit trails, but I’m pretty excited about how it turned out…well beyond my myopic view of what was supposed to happen. We’ve got the right guy at the right time.

I think about how yesterday, a high school student who only recently came to know Christ brought a friend to church. Her words to our teaching pastor, “My friend wants to know Christ. Can you help her?” He was on his way to a meeting and I was standing around doing nothing about five feet from him and introduces us. Half an hour later after bouncing around in some Bible verses. We said a little prayer at the end thanking God for moving her from death to life. I think it’s cool how our church has Bibles to give away for people that don’t have one (if you can imagine, in the Bible Belt, a kid not even having a Bible available to them?). I think it’s cool how our church will look the other way when I gave away a book that will help her along that we usually sell in our church book store. Seemed silly to ask her for $7 at that moment. I even think about how, as an encouragement, Diner patron Bob actually paid for that book even if he doesn’t know it yet.

I think about watching the light-bulb go off for some former students who’ve gone off to college this year. It can be dicey, sometimes, watching them go off and try to figure the next stage of their growth out pretty much on their own. Some win. Some lose. But the ones that “win”…well, it’s beautiful, man.

I think about I’ve got students who are being salt & light in all sorts of areas: Athletic teams, bands, plays, robot teams, extracurricular stuff like newspapers and yearbooks, and how we’ve got young ladies in our ministry funning full-throttle with an intergenerational deal with the older ladies in our church. It’s pretty neat to see when students aren’t part of the church of the future but part of our church right now. That’s Biblical, btw.

I could go on.


I could.

I should.

But it’s already too lengthy for today’s cup of joe.

So, today, I hope you’ll allow me to put a little dent in my own Stanley Cup and a mental parade through a fictional downtown.
I hope you’ll allow me to just put my head down and laugh with my hand over my eyes and shoulders bouncing.
I hope you’ll allow me to put my hands up and “Shout” and be a little bit louder now even if various forms of Dean Wormer try to squelch it.
I hope you’ll allow me to pick the soundtrack music to the celebration. Well, I just typed “Shout” into the iTunes Genius feature, but you get the drift, right?
I hope you’ll allow me to have that surreal moment while just standing there and it hits you, “We beat the Russians.”
I hope you’ll allow me to glance at my wife and feel like I’m in a dream.
I hope you’ll allow me to be thankful for all the adults who help out and make this thing happen with their hands and feet.
I hope you’ll allow me to wonder how it was that God led this lady to find our worship band’s MySpace page that day while she was at work.
I hope you’ll allow me to smile when I see a photo on Facebook with the True Love Waits class in it.
I hope you’ll allow me to want to feel exhausted after we ate too much, enjoyed really good wine, and broke glasses while listening to really great music and remembering what God did for us all freakin’ night long.
I hope you’ll allow me to give a book away on your nickel. Well, as it turns out, Bob’s nickel.
I hope you’ll allow me to have a little bit of enjoyment when I get that text message with a bunch of smiling faces and a scoreboard with their team victorious in the background, or when they talk about what God’s teaching them in 350-character blasts to my mobile phone.
I hope you’ll allow me to sit with a bunch of students watching & supporting another student participate as they use their gifts and talents to glorify Him in some way…and be a little thankful they bothered to invite a 42-year-old with a gigantic Peter Pan Complex.

In short, the way I see it, God is at work in me and around me.

And I’ll have a mental ticker-tape parade today…even if it’s taking a while.

Feel free to join in if you like.

*Puts “Shout” on the iTunes. Hits the “Genius” icon. Let’s that soundtrack rip–and you know it’ll be good when Sly & The Family Stone, Kool & The Gang and The Ohio Players show up. Genius pretty much has it figured out, man*