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Messages filled with wisdom can appear in the most unlikely places. 

I call this one the “Odwalla Philosophy of Ministry.”

A couple of days ago, Kim bought me a bottle of Odwalla, which is a delicious brand of fruit/vegetable smoothies and juices.  This particular blend was called Blueberry B, a concoction of 1/2 cup of blueberries, 1/3 of a banana, juice from 1 3/4 oranges, juice from 3 concord grapes, 1/5 of a mango, juice from 1/3 of an apple, 530% of the DV of Vitamins B6 and B12, and lots of “good vibes.”  As I was reading this list of ingredients on the back of the bottle, I glanced down at the bottom of the label and saw the following:

“Separation is natural – shake it up!” 

Obviously, the phrase (which is copyrighted, by the way; legal disclaimer fulfilled) was intended to alert the consumer that the all-natural ingredients, in the absence of preservatives and other non-hip substances, would tend to separate over time and that the contents should be shaken thoroughly before drinking.  But, it is such a cool and colorful phrase, intentionally loaded with far more potential meaning than the bland and ubiquitous “shake well before use.”

My mind immediately jumped to the need for intergenerational ministry!  Didn’t yours?

While I am grateful for ground that has been gained in many churches over the last few years in promoting cross-generational involvement in ministry, it is still very much the exception rather than the rule.  Age-defined and demographic-based divisions still dominate too much of the life and landscape of the church.  While trumpeting buzzwords like “community” and “family,” churches slice, dice, and dismember the body of Christ into insulated and isolated ministries, classes, and activities, separating young from old and the married from the single, widowed, and divorced.  It is what LaGard Smith has labeled “generational apartheid” in the church.   

The young need the wisdom, experience, maturity, and mentoring of those who have journeyed the road of life and the walk of faith ahead of them.  The older ones among us need the vitality, energy, optimism, and fresh insights of the young.

While one may question whether such generational separation is “natural,” it is most definitely “traditional” and “dominant” in many churches, and, I would argue, “detrimental” and “less than Biblical.”  

“Shake it up,” people!

Linsanity.  Super Lintendo.  The Mighty Lin.  Linvincible.  Linspiration.  Linning.

In the unlikely event that you haven’t read a newspaper, surfed the Internet, or watched SportsCenter on ESPN recently, let me introduce you to Jeremy Lin, the New York Knicks point guard who has lit up the Big Apple and mesmerized sports fans across the nation over the last few weeks.  Lin’s story is so fascinating and inspiring because it beautifully demonstrates the power of perseverance by an athlete with a heart that has refused to be beaten down or defeated by setbacks, reversals, dismissals, and oversights in others’ evaluations of him. 

Even though Lin led his high school basketball team to a state championship in California in ’05-’06, he received no scholarship offers from big-time college programs.  Lin was a two-time All Ivy-League First Team member during the four years he played at Harvard, but still went undrafted by the NBA after graduating in 2010.  He signed with his hometown Golden State Warriors, played in the NBA’s D-League, was claimed and promptly waived by the Rockets last December, then was picked up by the Knicks on December 27. 

When the Knicks sent Lin down to the D-League’s Erie BayHawks, he responded with a triple-double (28 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists) in a game on January 20.  Three days later, he was back in New York and got his chance, which he has maximized, to say the least.  Among the most amazing feats on Lin’s increasingly impressive highlight reel was the 38 points he dropped on Kobe Bryant and the Lakers on February 10.

Like Tim Tebow, Lin is very open about his Christian faith, although he hasn’t yet inaugurated a signature prayer posture (and hopefully he won’t!).  He is a humble, hard-working, team-player who can dish the ball just as well as he can score (he had 14 assists in the Knicks’ victory over my Dallas Mavericks on Sunday). 

While I’m grateful for this “feel good story of the year” in the sports world, the most Linspirational part of it to me is the fact that Lin’s beliefs, character, and talent are exactly the same as they were when hardly anyone knew who he was. 

As God’s children, we are called to walk in faith, integrity, and holiness, regardless of whether everyone is watching us or no one is.

On February 19, 1993, Kim and I were blessed with the arrival of our second child, a son, Coleman Bradford Pyles.   Hannah, who was 2 1/2 years-old at the time, was thrilled to welcome a baby brother into our family.  Hannah had already been such an incredible blessing in our lives and had brought us so much joy; having a “matched set”  was almost too good to be true.  We imagined a future with a house filled with the noise, activity, and laughter of the four or five children we hoped to have.

Coleman’s diagnosis with Dubowitz Syndrome at the age of five months and an additional diagnosis of autism a few years later significantly changed our hopes and expectations for the future.  I think that Kim and I both began making the necessary mental adjustments immediately, although I would unfortunately be about a decade and a half behind her in emotionally processing what this meant for him and for our family.  Hannah was a sharp little girl, and it didn’t take her long to realize that her little brother was different from most; she quickly took on roles far beyond her years as a tender guardian and fearless defender of Baby Coleman.    

I’ll spare you the details of the struggles, heartaches, advances, and setbacks of the early years:  more hospitalizations and pneumonias than I can count, trips to NIH, bone marrow aspirations, years of Neupogen injections, Cerebral Palsy Center, Easter Seals Center, orthotics, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and special education.

We have weathered many storms over the years, but, even through the worst of it, there was always plenty for which we could be grateful.  We were a family; as odd and irregular as we were, we were still a family.  While others cannot fully understand our circumstances unless they have walked this particular, peculiar road, we have always been blessed with friends and a church family who were sensitive to Coleman’s needs, as well as to those of our family.

I have watched in amazement for 19 years as Coleman has softened and stolen hearts, broken down barriers, loosened people up (who seriously needed loosening up!), and became a perennial teacher’s pet.  He has trained and entrapped countless people into doing his bidding, whether it was whistling or producing other sound effects for him, quoting movie lines, or supplying him with hamburgers, Dr. Pepper, Skittles, and Lucky Charms. 

Coleman has accomplished all of this without saying a word; “Mama” remains the only word he has ever spoken.  If my “accomplishments per word” ratio were as great as Coleman’s, I would be the recipient of several Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes by now.  I’ve talked a lot

Coleman is the happiest person I know.  His laughter is infectious.  His cleverness and ingenuity are amazing.  His perseverance is inspiring.  He is sweet.  He is gentle.  He is affectionate.  He has overcome the fear of simple things (but extremely terrifying things to him) like hair dryers, vacuum cleaners, electric clippers, escalators, and horses, although he remains very uncomfortable around dogs and cats.  I’m with him on the cats!  

He has been blessed with the best mother and the best big sister God could have ever given him. 

Happy birthday, Coleman!  Your Dad is so proud of you!

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February 2012