Saturday, October 31, 2009

Greetings from Japan

I'm in Chiba, Japan, assisting with the Japan Church Planting Institute November 2-7. Not much to say yet, as it was late afternoon yesterday when I arrived at Tokyo's Narita Airport and it was already getting dark. It's now early morning on Sunday, and I'm preparing to preach at the Oyumino Alive church in Chiba.

But this is funny. I woke up early and got on Facebook. I wanted to make the next move in online Scrabble, which I play with my daughter Rebecca. I got this message that said "Error: Invalid Country."

So Japan is an invalid country?! Not to God.

Japan is only .4% Christian, but it's a valid place for the gospel and full of valid, God-created people. I pray God will fill me and the team with love and energy to spread his gospel.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Talitha

This past Friday, October 23, my granddaughter Talitha Kelsi Osborne was born to my son David and his wife Lindsay. Talitha weighed in at 7 lbs., 7 ounces. She was just under 20" long. As you can see in this picture, she has lots of very dark brown hair. I think she's beautiful. And of course that's a perfectly objective, unprejudiced assessment.

David and Lindsay live in Tallahassee, Florida. My wife and I drove up there on Friday as Lindsay was in labor. She delivered Talitha at 9:05 p.m.

Many people have asked about the name "Talitha." David and Lindsay pronounce it with the accent on the first syllable (TAL - i - tha). The name is found in the Bible in Mark 5. In that chapter, Jairus, a synagogue ruler, comes to Jesus and pleads for him to heal his 12-year old daughter who is dying. While Jesus is on his way to Jairus' house, he stops to heal a woman who has had an issue of blood for many years. Meanwhile, Jairus' daughter dies. Nevertheless, Jesus goes to her and raises her from the dead. In Mark 5:41-42, we read:
"He took her by the hand and said to her, 'Talitha koum!' (which means, 'Little girl, I say to you, get up!'). Immediately the girl stood up and walked around."
So whether "Talitha" was the actual name of Jairus' daughter or not, it means "little girl" in Aramaic. Whenever I think of Talitha I think of Jesus giving his love, power, and life to one who is lost, empty, and without hope. In other words, the gospel is bound up in that one word "Talitha."

It was such a moving experience holding Talitha in my arms. For one thing, this is the first child of my first son. Just watching David and his wife go through this enormously life-changing event gives me chill bumps. But added to that is the memory of my own first childbirth experience, and knowing that now David and Lindsay get to have that. The whole thing is solemn, joyous, sacramental. Each day with your first baby is a brand new discovery, at once exhausting and exhilarating.

All my other children were there this weekend for the big event: Rebecca with her 3 kids, Jennifer (pregnant, due in March), and Michael.

I am a very blessed man indeed. To live to see my children's children is a rare privilege. To know that my children are walking with God and rearing their kids to do the same is even rarer.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Soloist

The Soloist is a story about homelessness. It's a story about mental illness. It's a story about friendship, and music, and family, and the power of words. It's a (true) story about a musician named Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, Jr. and his "unlikely friendship" with a journalist from the Los Angeles Times, Steve Lopez. Above all it's a story about grace.

Jamie Foxx stars as Ayers, and Robert Downey Jr. is Lopez. Both give sensitive, genuine portrayals of their characters. It's directed by Joe Wright, who also directed Atonement, one of my all-time favorite movies.

Nathaniel Ayers grew up in poverty in Cleveland. He was a musical prodigy. After completing high school he attended Ohio University on a music scholarship. Then in 1970, at the age of 19, he was accepted in NYC's prestigious Julliard School of Music, one of the few African American students there.

Ayers was trained to play the double bass but taught himself to play cello, trumpet, violin, drums, and harmonica. Every indication was that Nathaniel Ayers was bound for a lifelong career in a famous orchestra. But two years into his time at Julliard, something went wrong. The pressure of studies started getting to him. Known to be a fastidious dresser, he began to show up for class disheveled and unbathed. His grades took a nosedive. He grew angry and confrontational. He started hearing voices in his head. He talked incessantly and drew graffiti all over his living quarters.

One night Ayers snapped. He was taken to Bellevue Hospital, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and given heavy doses of Thorazine. It didn't help. They gave him shock treatments, which only frightened him and turned him into a zombie. He ended up back in Cleveland, then drifted to the streets of California, lugging battered musical instruments with him. Finally Ayers settled in the streets of LA, sleeping in the tunnel under 2nd Street, beating the rats away with drumsticks, and playing his violin for the pigeons and anyone else who happened by.

One day in 2005, Steve Lopez heard Ayers playing his violin in Pershing Square next to the statue of Beethoven. And thus began the relationship that led to Lopez writing articles for the Times, then a book, a piece on the CBS show 60 Minutes, and this movie, The Soloist.

Watching the movie was an experience on several levels. For one thing, it's just an amazing story about an amazing person. Deeper than that, it moved me to look at homelessness in a new light. I tend to be dismissive of, impatient with, and offended by these people. Through the eyes of Steve Lopez, I saw them as fellow human beings who happened to have not had some of the advantages I did, who are suffering and desperate and need help.

Deeper still, The Soloist reminded me that I am the desperate one in need of grace.

At one point in the movie, Lopez tells his ex-wife of the profound experience of something that he's had in his relationship with Ayers. "What is it?" he asks. She says, "Sounds like grace."

How right she is. Grace is the connecting spark between someone who is desperate and someone else who cares no matter what. That's what Lopez experienced as Nathaniel Ayers - initially just the subject of a newspaper column - soon became a friend. And that's why The Soloist is a fresh bath in the gospel.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sunshine Cleaning

Talk about pushing buttons, Sunshine Cleaning hits them all... death, suicide, family, God, the afterlife, poverty, sex, friendship, yearnings, dreams, loneliness, and more. It's a movie that touches on lots of heart issues. It hit me hard and I loved it.

The acting is great. Amy Adams plays Rose Lorkowski, a single mom trying to establish herself and raise her little boy while facing challenges on several fronts. She and her sister Nora (played by Emily Blunt) wind up starting a "biohazard removal" business, i.e., cleaning up bloody crime scenes. Meanwhile we find out what's eating away at their souls: when they were little girls their mother committed suicide. Ever since, Rose and Nora have searched for something or someone to take away their heartache.

Really, each character in the movie is yearning for God, they just don't know it. Parents, friends, lovers, and careers all prove unfaithful in some way. In a telling scene, Rose picks up a CB radio and talks to the heavens, hoping her mother is listening. The gospel hears and replies, "God is."

I'm struck by how well Sunshine Cleaning depicts our fallen world. Like a horrific crime scene, signs and symbols of death are everywhere we look. Beauty has been defaced. The creation has been ruined by sin. But it's into this smelly, rotten world that Jesus came to bring sunshine and clean up the mess.

At present, as the author of Hebrews says, "we do not see everything subject to him" (Heb. 2:8). That is, the cleanup process has only begun; there's a lot more carnage yet to be removed. But if we look carefully "we see Jesus, [who tasted] death for everyone" (Heb. 2:9). In other words, the incarnation means that we are not alone in this crime scene called earth. Jesus experienced our sadness and loss on the cross, and rose again to offer hope to all who call on him.

(Caution: Sunshine Cleaning is rated R for language, disturbing images, some sexuality and drug use.)

Friday, October 02, 2009

Tyler is 8!


It was one of the proudest moments of my life when my first grandchild was born. The date was October 2, 2001. My daughter Rebecca and her husband Scott were living in Jackson, Mississippi, when Rebecca gave birth to a healthy, beautiful baby girl named Tyler Suzanne. She turned eight years old today.

I've told you about Tyler before (and here, as well as other briefer mentions). She's quite a special girl, with many outstanding qualities.

For instance, God has gifted Tyler with a tender and loving heart. She cares for her two brothers with incredible tolerance and patience (often convicting me of my own lack thereof!).

She also fits the description in 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 of love that is not proud, rude, or self-seeking. Tyler is a humble person, always seeing the good in other people and situations. When the family goes on long car trips, Tyler is patient and cheerful, finding things to keep herself occupied and rarely complaining about anything.

She's an amazing reader. Rebecca and Scott have read to their kids for years, and Tyler has picked up a love for books. She's read dozens of books way above her age level in difficulty.

Another thing that makes Tyler special is the way she brings joy to others. Her smile is contagious, and her positive attitude makes others feel better just by being around her. In a word, she is radiant.

Well, I could brag forever. But I thank God for bringing Tyler into our extended family. Happy birthday, Tyler Suzanne. May you forever be "clothed with strength and dignity" and "laugh at the days to come" (Proverbs 31:25).