Monday, October 23, 2017

Revival

When I started preaching a long time ago, small, but strong country churches dotted the landscape.  One thing those country churches had in common was an annual revival.  Some of them even had one in the Spring and another in the Fall, but all had at least one week of what the old timers called "a protracted meeting."  Now, most churches today do not have revivals.  In fact, churches respond to the word as if it speaks of something which only belongs in the church history books.  As far as most churches are concerned, revivals are a phenomena of the past and are no longer needed.
 
It was different back then.   A revival would start on Sunday night and go through Friday night.  People tended to put their regular stuff aside and make an effort to attend.  Prayer meetings were often held ahead of the meetings.  Revivals were regarded with a seriousness that is unknown to the current church that entertains from the corner.  Prayers were offered for those who had made no public profession of faith in Christ.  Long invitational hymns provided more than enough time for those in need to make their way to the altar after the preaching was done.  In those country churches revivals were moments prayed for ahead of time and remembered long after the last benediction.

One song that was always sung at any respectable revival was known as "Revive Us Again."  It actually had another name, but no one knew it.  It was a full of life song with a chorus that had folks singing,  "Hallelujah! Thine the glory. Hallelujah! Amen. Hallelujah! Thine the glory. Revive us again."  Most revival meetings started with a spirited up-beat singing of this hymn written back in 1863.  Those words, "Revive us again." are like words of a prayer from the church.  No one doubted such a prayer needed to be offered back in the days when revivals swept the ecclesiastical landscape.  Unfortunately, it is a different day today.  Maybe no one is having revivals anymore, but that does not change the great need the church has for one that sweeps across it from one end to the other.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Places of the Heart

While most of the churches I served as pastor during my days of active ministry were larger town and urban churches, I have always had a great appreciation and love for the small country church.  In some ways, it speaks of the church of my heart.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that my father was buried in a country church cemetery.  I have found some comfort in knowing he was laid to rest in a place where people have come and gone now for generations to worship God.  Perhaps, it was not a great multitude who worshipped in that small sanctuary, but some came each week to worship and cast their eyes toward those silent ones who shared the ground with them. 

The Pierce Chapel Methodist Church which has always stood beside my Daddy's grave for the past 62 years was not brown, nor was it in a valley by the wildwood, but it was the church I always envisioned when I sang the song, "The Church in the Wildwood."   It's first verse had me singing, "There's a church in the valley by the wildwood, No lovelier spot in the dale; No place is so dear to my childhood, As the little brown church in the vale."   Pierce Chapel has always been a special spot in my heart. The other verses speak of loved ones being buried beside that brown church and a longing to join them when the time comes.
 
It has always seemed to me that church burying ground is not only made sacred by the fact that the land has been set aside for holy purposes, but also because of the love and tears which mourners brought with them and the hope of resurrection they carried away in their hearts.  My boyhood singing of that song written in 1857 always brought back memories of a hard day and a hope of a glorious day still to come.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

First Music Lesson

I learned to sing in the backseat of a '55 Plymouth.  Shortly before his death, my father bought the car.  It was his first new one.  All the other ones had been used by someone else.  This was the car that took us back to Waycross, Georgia after his death and the one my mother drove forever while my sister and me grew up in the backseat.  It was in that car that I learned my first church songs.  I do not remember exactly how it happened except that when we went somewhere my mother would sing and so we all sang.  The backseat of that '55 Plymouth became like a choir loft where my mother led her choir.
 
One of the earliest songs I remember singing was an old gospel song, "Love Lifted Me."  It was not a song which made it to the official Methodist hymnal, but one we sang from "The Cokesbury Hymnal" which was the preferred song book of the Methodist I knew growing up. While I can still sing all the three verses, it is that first verse which is imbedded in an unforgettable way in my heart.  "I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore, Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more; But the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry, From the waters lifted me, now safe am I."  And then came the chorus which simply repeated three lines twice, "Love lifted Me!  Love lifted me!  When nothing else could help, Love lifted me."

Who can measure the power of music about the work of Jesus in a sinner's heart?  Who can measure how the songs of our youth shape our souls for a lifetime of living?  The one problem I have with the contemporary church movement is the trendy contemporary music which is sung today and replaced tomorrow by the next best selling song.  A song like "Love Lifted Me" was written in 1912 and was sung by generations of growing believers.  How thankful I am for those early music lessons in the backseat of that '55 Plymouth.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Eternal Care of God

The eternal care of God
     was put in place
     before the constellations,
     was shining brightly
     long before the sun,
     always and never ending,
Hovering o'er, surrounding us.

The eternal care of God
     was made a promise
     before the arching rainbow,
     carved carefully in stone
     'er the commandments,
     spoken into existence
As was sun, moon, and stars.

The eternal care of God
     was gifted by grace,
     undeserved, freely given,
     granting life and hope
     not for a small moment,
     but one lasting forever.
All for you, even for me.
     

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Standing in Line

While standing in one of life's line, I overheard a conversation going on ahead of me.  I really was not trying to listen, but the voices simply carried on down the line to where I was not so patiently waiting my turn to be at the head of the line.  "How you been doing?" asked the clerk.  "Just fine, just fine," replied the customer, "The Lord woke me up this morning.  He reached down and touched me on the shoulder and woke me up.  It was not the alarm clock that woke me up.  It was not my wife who woke me up.  I was laying there not knowing anything and God just woke me up for another day.  It is a fine day, a fine day."
 
This old gentlemen sorta had the preacher voice by the time he got through singing praises to the One who woke him up every day.  I just listened along with all the other waiters.  I do not know what everyone else thought, but I was blessed by this man giving an unsolicited witness for the work of God in his life.  Before the old guy left, it was obvious from what the younger clerk said to him that I was not the only one getting blessed in that rather ordinary place where only the things of the world are transacted.
 
What I heard was so true.  We are all living as if we are dead when we are asleep.  We know nothing.  We are just there in that moment when it seems that the only thing alive is what is unconscious.  And, then somehow we are no longer asleep, but awake.  We never shake ourselves and wake ourselves up.  The fellow there at the head of the line said that God wakes him up every day.  It sounded good to me.  Henceforth, I am going with his explanation.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

An Oft Missed Fact

As the parables of Jesus go, the one about the Good Samaritan is certainly one of the more well known ones.  Even the folks who are unacquainted with Biblical stuff have some idea about what is being talked about when the title, "Good Samaritan" is hung on someone.  The parable is spoken to a member of the Jewish upper crust who wants to make sure he is seen as good in the eyes of Jesus as he is in his own eyes.  Of course, the parable tells us of a robbed and beaten man who is passed by a couple of guys who would have been expected to help.  But, the one who finally stops to help is a Samaritan at whom the lawyer looked down his aristocratic nose with a great deal of disdain.
 
What has always proven to be an interesting fact is the one about whom Jesus said, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers..." (Luke 10:30)  There is absolutely nothing said to identify the man left for dead.  Nothing is said about religion, economic status, or birth.  But, those who heard the parable jumped to the assumption the man in distress was a Jew.  Who else could he be?  It is this assumption which made the Samaritan's kindness such a surprise.  It is the unexpected element of the parable.  Actually, the man left for dead could have been a Samaritan, or he could have been a Jew, or maybe, even an Egyptian.
 
When Jesus identified the sufferer in need of someone's help, he simply used the identifying title, "man."  The one left for dead was just another human being who was mostly like anyone who saw him there on the road.  Such are the ones we are called to offer care.  Who or what does not matter.  It never has.  It never will.  It is the human suffering which beckons us.  It is in seeing the need that we hear the call.  If it is not that way for us, then we can choose the name "priest" or "levite."  Either one will fit us.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Where?

A recent reading from Oswald Chamber's (My Utmost For His Highest) read, "In the beginning Moses realized he was the man to deliver the people, but he had to be trained an disciplined by God first...He was not the man for the work until he had learned communion with God."  So, there is this question.  Where do you learn about communion with God?  Long years ago I went to a seminary and spent three years learning.  I learned to read theologians.  I learned about church history.  I learned about social activism.  I learned about preaching.  I learned a lot of things, but no one taught me anything about communion with God.
 
Maybe those who were teaching figured that the communion with God was a given.  Maybe they figured that anybody enrolled in a seminary was already doing the communion with God thing.  Or, maybe they figured it was one of those things that would just happen, or I would figure it out on my own.  They were wrong.  Maybe I should have gone to some monastery and spent a month mingling with the resident monks.  Or, maybe I should have gone to one more retreat on spiritual formation.  Maybe I should have done something I did not do. 
 
Or, maybe communion with God is the result of a lifetime of seeking after the presence of God.   I sense a hunger and thirst for God more in this last season of my life than those which have passed and gone behind me.  When younger and more energetic too much of life was expended on things other than seeking Him.  Maybe the communion with God is not the result of finding God, but the result of seeking Him.