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Mark Knopfler at Fox Theatre, St. Louis, April 22; Yes, we were that close!

Last September, I shared a post about the release of Mark Knopfler’s latest cd and expressed my longstanding admiration for his abilities as a guitarist and songwriter.  I have followed Knopfler’s music from the old Dire Straits days, beginning in the late ’70s, and on through the next three decades as he ventured into solo projects, composed soundtracks for films, and collaborated with an amazingly diverse group of country, rock, blues, Celtic, and folk artists.

When we learned several months ago that Knopfler would be touring the U.S. this spring, Kim and I planned a brief trip around his concert appearance at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis on April 22.  It was a combination anniversary, birthday, musical, romantic getaway-type trip; only one night away from home, but plenty of additional “together time” on the six-hour drive there and back.  We got to see a few sights around town, including the Gateway Arch, but the main attraction was the concert on Thursday night.  My purchase of the tickets last fall through a fan site pre-sale landed us on the second row of the orchestra section, first two seats on the center aisle.  I’ve never had seats like that at a concert before, and it was definitely the right show to get them.  If you are interested in a professional review of the concert, you can read it here, but it got 5 Stars and an enthusiastic two thumbs up from the Pyles family. 

Below are a couple of video clips that demonstrate just a little bit of Knopfler’s seemingly effortless fingerpicking style on both electric and acoustic guitar.  The first is an extended instrumental at the end of a performance of “Sultans of Swing.”  The second clip features a duet with guitar legend Chet Atkins from 1987.  Knopfler and Atkins developed a very close personal and professional relationship and released an album together entitled Neck and Neck (quite clever!) in 1990 which won the pair a couple of Grammys. 

Enjoy the music! 



In a blog post last October entitled Sunday, Saturday, Tuesday I described the exhaustion that many Christians frequently feel at the end of Sundays that start early and end late, leaving them wishing for a day of rest before the start of the work week:

The day starts early with worship and Sunday School, then there is a quick lunch before a succession of activities that can easily run until nearly bedtime:  committee meetings, work groups, training sessions, service projects, evening worship services, small group meetings, and youth activities.  The larger your church, the more susceptible you are to “activity overload.”  Many of us feel pangs of guilt if we ever start to question the rationality or healthiness of such a frenetic start-to-finish pace on Sundays, because all of these activities revolve around good things; needful things; spiritual things.  But, for a people who believe and teach salvation by grace and not by works, we Christians sure do measure a lot of spiritual faithfulness, commitment, and maturity (in ourselves and others) in terms of the number of ministries involved in and the number of organized activities attended.  

As church leaders, we often lament the breakneck pace of our culture and the overcommitment of time that Christian families make between work, school, ballgames, and social events.  Then, we respond by packing as many activities as possible into the one remaining day of the week.  No, I am not calling for an end to the multitude of ministries and good works in which God has called His children to be involved; just asking for some balance and moderation.  With all of the special-emphasis Sundays that churches celebrate, maybe we could observe a periodic “Worship Sunday” in which the church calendar is cleared and a moratorium is declared on all official, organized activities, with the exception of an expanded morning worship assembly lasting an hour and a half or two hours.  No Bible classes (give your hard-working teachers a morning off!).  No fellowship meal.  No small groups.  No evening worship assembly.  Just an hour or two to become “lost in wonder, love, and praise” and then dismiss for the day.

Yesterday was just such a day at the Broken Arrow church.  About three months ago, the staff identified April 25 as the date on which we would celebrate a Day of Worship and Rest, involving a two-hour worship assembly on Sunday morning.  We received the elders’ blessing on keeping the rest of the day entirely free from other activities.  As members called to schedule and secure space for wedding and baby showers and planning sessions for mission trips, VBS, summer camp, etc., the administrative staff simply explained the plans for the day and suggested alternative dates.  Bible class teachers would be given the morning off.   Two shifts of nursery attendants would be needed during the assembly, and Children’s Bible Hour would meet during the second hour following Communion.  Members would be encouraged to devote the remainder of the day to rest, renewal, and family time.

It is amazing how quickly two hours passed yesterday morning.  We were an hour and a half into the service before I even looked at a clock.  Time didn’t seem to be a consideration.  Numerous songs (about 3 times as many as normal time constraints allow for) were offered before the Father’s throne in a sacrifice of praise.  Mike, Rich, Scott, and I each shared “mini-lessons” focused on various aspects of our worship.  We had an extended period of time devoted to sharing in the bread and wine in memory of the Savior’s sacrificial death for our sins.  We closed the assembly by singing “Bind Us Together,” “A Common Love,” and “The Greatest Commands” with united hearts and joined hands.  After the service, members seemed to stay around longer than usual.  With no afternoon or evening activities planned, there really wasn’t a sense of urgency about leaving. 

A Day of Worship and Rest.  Purposeful.  Meaningful.  Refreshing.  Bound to be repeated in the future!

“So he got up and went to his father.  But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.  The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick!  Bring the best robe and put it on him.  Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it.  Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’  So they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:20-24).

What a beautiful portrait of grace, masterfully communicated by Jesus in the context of a three-fold parable that He offered as a defense and rationale for His willingness to welcome and break bread with tax collectors and sinners.  Having already described the earnest efforts of a shepherd to find a wayward sheep and the similar desire of a homemaker to locate a misplaced coin of great value, Jesus crowns the parable with a figure even more relevant and dear to human hearts, the story of a son who had wandered far from home.  

There is no question that the son’s reception represents totally unmerited favor, graciously bestowed by a loving father.  The son had done absolutely nothing to earn or deserve such a welcome.  Quite the contrary.  He had selfishly and disrespectfully demanded his share of his father’s estate, traveled to a distant land (Gentile country), and squandered his wealth with loose living.  He spent it prodigally (with reckless extravagance and foolish waste), wantonly paying for the services of prostitutes, at least according to the accusation of his hard-hearted older brother.  Penniless and friendless in a famine-stricken land, he sought subsistence through feeding swine as a hired hand.  This wasn’t just a dirty and lowly task; for a Jew, this was a nightmare episode of The World’s Most Ceremonially Unclean Jobs, working for a Gentile and handling pigs.

But, none of that mattered to the father who joyfully welcomed home a son who had come to his senses and humbled his heart.  He once was lost, but now was found.  Celebration!

When I was in the seventh grade, my sister came home from school with a couple of cigarettes that a friend had given her.  (Sorry to “out” you on this one, Karen, but I think the statute of limitations has expired on the offense by now).  Being a good sister, she shared with her brother; one for her and one for me.  Mom was out of town and Dad was still at the office, so we thought it might be a good opportunity to try this smoking thing.  Being much brighter than I, Karen smoked her cigarette on the patio.  I, on the other hand, believed that the exhaust fan in the bathroom was more than sufficient to remove any hint of the smell of burnt tobacco, especially since I would stand in a chair and blow the smoke directly into the fan.  How cool I must have looked!  Detecting a “slight” odor afterward, I emptied a can of Lysol throughout the house just to be on the safe side.  What could go wrong? 

Dad arrived home a little earlier than expected and asked, “What’s that smell?”  “What smell?,” I responded.  Questioned further, I offered that the smell was Lysol, which I had generously sprayed because, in my opinion, the house stunk.  He left it at that for the moment, then went to Karen’s room and promptly got a full confession, including the fact that I was the brilliant one who had smoked in the house.  His voice called from kitchen for me to leave my Gilligan’s Island rerun and join him at the table.  I knew it was over at this point.  Dad didn’t raise his voice at all.  He didn’t look angry, and he spoke in a very calm voice.  He said, “Tim, I’m very disappointed in you; not just for what you did, but for lying to me about it.  I’m not going to tell your mother about this, because I don’t want her to be as disappointed in you as I am right now.”  A beating wouldn’t have hurt me as much as those words did.  Through tears, I told him repeatedly how sorry I was, and that I would gladly take whatever punishment was coming.  Dad said, “Dry your tears, go wash your face, get your sister, and we’ll go to McDonald’s for supper!” 

I was stunned!  We didn’t eat out much in those days, and going to McDonald’s was special; it was extremely special. 

Grace!  Forgiveness!  Unmerited favor!  Undeserved blessings!  I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that, though disappointed, my father loved me.  A Big Mac was my fattened calf!

Thanks, Dad, for helping me understand the Father’s love, mercy, and grace!                               

One of life’s simple pleasures for me comes in the form of a cup of piping hot coffee.  Morning, noon, or eve; Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall; while driving, sitting at my desk, or lounging at home; anytime is the right time for a mug of my favorite beverage.  As long as it comes black with no sugar, it doesn’t matter to me if it is regular, decaffeinated, perked, dripped, or even instant.  A connoisseur I am not.  I have no need for a gourmet concoction with a six-part name, a frothy top, and the price tag of a small meal.  Just a regular cup of joe will do just fine.

When Coleman was quite young and in and out of the hospital with great frequency, a friend of ours gave us a gift basket which included a box of “Coffee Singles.”  (This was long before Keurig appeared with the greatest invention since sliced bread.)  The coffee was packaged in small, single serving-sized bags and functioned just like tea bags.  They provided a quick and convenient cup of coffee when you didn’t have either the time or the need to make a whole pot.  These proved to be very handy to have in the hospital room, and we took the remaining supply home with us when Coleman was discharged.

A few days after getting Coleman home, I decided to grill some hamburgers for supper.  While waiting for the charcoal to burn down a bit, I went into the house to get a cup of coffee.  Since there was not a fresh pot made, I decided to use one of the coffee bags.  I filled a mug (my favorite one) with water and popped it in the microwave.  As I waited for the water to boil, my mind began to wander a bit, but the familiar “ding” of the microwave snapped me back to reality.  I opened the microwave door, grabbed the hot mug, and went back outside.  As the aroma of grilling burgers filled the air, I took a few sips from my mug and thought, “It just doesn’t get any better than this.”

It was shortly after this that shock and amusement set in.  I had put the mug down on the patio for a moment so that I could flip the burgers over, and, as I reached down to pick it up again, I noticed that I could see straight to the bottom of the mug.  It was filled with nothing but hot water.  I experienced a very surreal moment or two, wondered if I might be on Candid Camera, and then realized what I had done.  In my haste to get back outside to the grill, I never put the coffee bag in the water.

Talk about a drinking problem!  It seems impossible.  How could I have sipped from a mug of hot water and not known that something was seriously wrong?  The answer is that everything else was just like it should have been.  I had reheated mugs of coffee hundreds of times.  There was the “ding” of the microwave.  The mug was hot and comforting in my hand.  It was my favorite mug.  The liquid was warm and soothing to my throat.  The aromatic burgers were being cooked to perfection.  Everything felt right and smelled right.  There was only one problem: no coffee.  I would probably make a great laboratory animal.

So…..I was settled into my pew on Sunday morning just like I have been on hundreds of Sundays before.  I had on my “church clothes.”  I smiled and greeted those around me.  My voice could be heard as songs of praise were sung.  I ate unleavened bread and drank the wine.  I sat quietly as the Word of God was read and expounded.  I bowed my head and even closed my eyes as petitions and thanksgivings were raised to the throne of the Father.

Everything looked like worship and sounded like worship.  So, I must have really poured out my heart in praise, right?  Maybe so.  Perhaps not.

“One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike.  Each person must be fully convinced in His own mind.  He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord…” (Romans 14:5-6).

Given the diversity of religious backgrounds and congregational contexts in which people are raised, I know that some of us grew up in homes and churches in which Easter Sunday was a big deal every Spring.  I also know that others may have come from backgrounds where Easter was virtually ignored (maybe even maligned) on the basis that it was considered to be an extra-Biblical, post-apostolic innovation, the popular celebration of which was built largely upon pagan fertility notions and imagery.  Other families were “tweeners” that celebrated the cultural and commercial aspects of the day, but downplayed the religious significance. 

While the apostle Paul was most likely addressing issues connected with the Sabbath and Jewish feast days in the Romans 14 passage above, the Holy Spirit also knew that the church in subsequent centuries and millennia would face similar questions about the observance of special days.  Offered in the context of his discussion of freedom in Christ in matters of opinion and personal judgment, Paul’s answer was essentially, “Do whatever your conscience and heart lead you to do.  Do it (or don’t) for the Lord and His glory, and grant to others the same liberty, without judgment or condemnation.”

I have fond memories of Easter Sundays as a child.  Dyeing real boiled eggs (cool activity if you’ve never done it!); egg hunts; Easter baskets; chocolate bunnies; big crowds at church; ham, mashed potatoes and green beans for lunch; six inches of snow one Easter morning in Louisville, Kentucky.  Easter was special to me then, but it is even more significant to me now. 

I know that the word Easter does not appear in the New Testament (except in the KJV of Acts 12:4, where it mistranslates the Greek word for Passover).  But, I also know this: the crucified Christ was raised to life by the power and glory of the Father on the Sunday following Passover.  It was precisely at this time of year 1,980 years ago that Death was deprived of its sting and the Grave’s victory was taken away.

While the weekly memorial feast that we observe with bread and wine proclaims the body and blood of the Savior’s sacrifice and death, we celebrate it in anticipation of the Risen Christ’s return.  In that sense, every Sunday is Easter.  Just ask a Russian!  The Russian word for Sunday is Voskresenie, meaning “Resurrection.”

Happy Resurrection Day!

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April 2010