Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Early Rising

Some time ago, though not as long ago as I would like to report, I came to a place of realizing that I needed to start rising early in the morning to spend time in prayer with God.  Not being one who thought of himself as an early riser, I had put off this decision for some time.  As is the case with anything we want to do, or want to avoid doing, justification is easy.  So, I told myself that there was nothing which could not be done at some time other than in the early morning hours.  And while such may not be true for everyone, it was a poor choice for me.  I was wrong.  Prayer and time alone with God works better for me in the morning, more so than any other time of the day.
 
I have often wondered why it works this way for me.  Maybe it is the fact that early prayers require an intentional commitment.  It is not a matter of convenience.  There is only one reason which is getting me up at some ungodly hour.  The early rising speaks of some sacrifice.  Maybe it is not the kind of sacrifice which goes with martyrdom, but still it speaks of some in my life.  But, most of all it enables me to come before the Father with the awareness that He is the reason I have chosen not to sleep an extra hour. 
 
So, my underlining what E.M. Bounds wrote in his book, "Prayer" should be no surprise. "More time and early hours devoted to prayer would revive and invigorate many a decayed spiritual lifeMore time  and early hours for prayer would be manifest in holy living.  A holy life would not be so rare or difficult a thing if our devotions were not short and hurried....We live shabbily because we pray meagerly."  One thing I have come to desire is meaningful time alone with God.  Getting to it first thing has proven to be the best way to accomplish this spiritual goal.  Anyone struggling might find it worth their time to experiment with early rising for prayer.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Different Direction

Another underlined and penetrating word of E. M. Bounds in his book entitled, "Prayer," reads "Where are the Christlike leaders who can teach the modern saints how to pray?  Where are the leaders who will put them to the task?  Do our leaders know we are raising up a prayerless set off saints?  Where are the apostolic leaders who can put God's people to praying?  Let them come to the front and do the work, and it will be the greatest work that can be done.  An increase of educational facilities and a great increase of financial support will be the most disastrous curse to religion, if these things are not sanctified by more and better praying than we are doing."
 
I am always amazed when reading the words of this man born in 1835.  It would seem he was writing for the church of this present day.  Over and over this comes to mind as I read the pages he wrote so long ago.  Sometimes we long for "do-overs."  If such were possible, I would put less focus on the physical signs of success and work to direct the churches entrusted to me more toward the cultivation of the spiritual life.  It is not that I did not see myself as being concerned about the spiritual growth of those souls entrusted to me, but sometimes I wonder if I was walking in leadership as I should have been.  The temptation for bigger building and more people in the pews was always present. And, I must confess the temptation was not always pushed aside.
 
Edward McKendree Bounds points the church of our day in a different direction than it often seems to be going and he does it from over a hundred years ago.  If the ship of the church is ever going to be righted, it will not be because it has achieved the kind of success the world around it declares to be important, but because it has learned that being in the presence of the Almighty is the most important thing.  If we work, worship, serve, and lead in His presence, He can be trusted to do the rest. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

An Old Word

If all my books were taken away except three, the one I would hold the longest would be that well worn, marked up Bible that has been my companion in the pulpit and study for many a year.  The second most important book is one I have carried along the journey now for nearly fifty years.  It is Oswald Chamber's daily devotional guide, "My Utmost for His Highest."   The third to which I would cling is one written by E.M. Bounds entitled "Prayer."   Actually, "Prayer" is a compilation of the seven books this great man of prayer wrote prior to his death in 1913.
 
While I have many books on prayer, if I could only have one, it would be this volume written by E,M. Bounds.  So many pages are marked with underlinings, but the one I have gone to the most and the one which speaks volumes to me is one about the church.  It reads, "What the church needs today is not more or better machinery, not new organizations or more and novel methods.  She needs men whom the Holy Spirit can use--men of prayer, men mighty in prayer.  The Holy Spirit does not flow through methods, but through men.  He does not come on machinery, but on men.  He does not anoint plans, but men--men of prayer."
 
It is such an old word.  Over a hundred years old.  But, such a powerful word for the present age.  The church and its servants, male and female, depend too much on things other than prayer.  If there is anything missing in the church today it is a strong and determined commitment to pray.  Have a fellowship meal and draw a crowd.  Have a prayer meeting and have no worries about filling a room. What Bounds wrote over a hundred years ago speaks a powerful penetrating word to the church of our day. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Preaching

Why Mrs. Evans, my high school English and Literature teacher, recruited me for the debate team is beyond me.  Had a vote been taken I would have easily won the award for being the one least likely to succeed in earning a living as a public speaker.  As an introvert, I was always more comfortable with a book, or secluded in my bedroom with ham radio equipment.  But, there is an even greater mystery in my life.  Why God chose to call me as a preacher of the gospel makes no sense at all.  I have always figured He was scraping the bottom of the barrel the night He called me to preach.
 
As one called from the bottom of the barrel, I am deeply grateful for a life time of preaching.  I have been privileged to preach a sermon lifting up Christ at least once or twice every Sunday for most of my life.  I have enjoyed the preaching, all of it, the praying over it, the study and preparation, the being in the pulpit, and the every now and again the report of the Spirit's work through it in someone's life.  It is one of those life activities which has given meaning and purpose.  For whatever the reason, I am grateful God dared to take a chance on me and called me to preach.

No doubt this is part of why I underlined some words of Charles Spurgeon from "The Essential Works of Charles Spurgeon."  He was writing about his initial experience of coming to know Christ as Savior through the preaching of lay person in a Primitive Methodist Church.  "The books were good, but the man was better.  The revealed Word awakened me, but it was the preached Word that saved me, and I must ever attach peculiar value to the hearing of the Word, for by it I received the joy and peace in which my soul delights."   I pray my preaching has brought such to some of those who heard it.  And, even more, I pray that those who stand to preach today will be humbled and inspired by the God given moment being given to them.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Sin of Accomodation

"By degrees we get familiar with sin.  I am fearful that even preaching against sin may have an injurious effect upon the preacher.  I frankly confess that there is a tendency with those of us who have to speak upon these themes, to treat the m professionally rather to make application of them to ourselves, and thus we lose our dread of evil in some degree just as young doctors soon lose their tender nervousness in the dissecting room."   These words of that 19th century preacher, Charles Spurgeon, still resonate as words of truth.  And, while he is talking about preachers in this sermon from "The Essential Works of Charles Spurgeon" it is a word which transcends the type of work we do to the lives we live.  
 
There was more than one reason I underlined it.  Chief among them was the way it reminded me of how easy it has become for us to sleep with our sin.  Instead of finding ourselves under conviction, as the old timers used to talk about it, we have learned to live with our sin without allowing it to bother us too much.  No one seems to take sin seriously these days.  Seldom do we use the word and when we do, it is usually with the disclaimer, "Everyone does it!" which supposedly makes it all right, or at least provides some personal excusing justification.

The Apostle Paul spoke of being dead to sin.  He used some harsh and definite language which he used the image of crucifixion of the sin in us.  Nothing vague about his view of the seriousness of sin.  According to his Spirit inspired writing, what we rightfully deserve for our sin is death.  Thus, our only hope of handling sin is not within us, but on the cross where the Savior died.  It is no wonder there is little cross preaching in our day.  No one senses any need for it.  Listening to the popular common consensus is dangerous.  It is a dead end street, but the cross of God takes us beyond the death we deserve to the life given by grace. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Being Disrespectful

Most of us can own up to the fact that knowing what God wants us to do in most situations is not a difficult thing.  The difficulty is not usually in the knowing, but in the doing.  One of my favorite real life stories is told by a preacher friend who went through the racial struggles of this region back in another day and was told by a parishioner, "Preacher, I know what to do.  I just ain't ready to do it yet."  Who among us has not stood in the midst of some issue of our own life and knew those words to be words guiding us in the moment.  Sometimes we simply do not pay attention to what we know.

In that book of sermons, "The Essential Works of Charles Spurgeon," I took my underlining pen to some Spurgeon words, "God has given us His commands...but we do not pay any attention to them...When we realize we have been disrespecting God all the time, we are covered with shame and humiliation because we have not heeded Him."  His words take us into a different way of thinking about doing what we know is right to do.  When we choose to do not what we know to do, it is not only disobedient, but it is also disrespectful.  One thing taught by my elders was to be respectful of others.
 
To think that I would be disrespectful of Jesus is something which grieves the heart. It is one thing for someone to choose to disregard what we say, but to be ignored is an even worse thing.  When we know the right thing to do and choose it not, we are living as if Jesus was not even in the room.  While He stands present with us, we pay Him no attention at all.  It is no wonder Spurgeon spoke of shame and humiliation for such is what we have felt in those moments of disobeying and disrespecting Jesus.  "Lord, forgive me...and have mercy."

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Dog and a Bone

Like a dog thrown a bone, I have been gnawing on a Word from the scripture all day.  Now, it may not be an orthodox or traditional way to describe the activity of the Holy Spirit and it may seem a bit too irreverent for some, but all day long it has seemed like the Spirit threw me a bone this morning during those quiet moments when I was seeking His presence.  What I do know is that I have quietly been chewing on it all day.  Each time my mind went to neutral, there it was.  I felt like my old dog who takes a bone, holds it with his front feet as if they are hands, and then pulls at it one way and then another with his teeth.  So has it been with me.
 
The Word was in the form of I Peter 1:13.  "Therefore, prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when He is revealed."  I remembered an early teaching about the word "Therefore..." so I recognized it as an important word of transition and looked to see what came in the early verses.  I was also struck by those three words directing personal action:  "prepare...discipline...set..."  But, what really captivated my attention was the image created by the Words, "set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring to you when He is revealed."  Not "set your hope," but "set all your hope." 
 
The difference between those two phrases is the thing on which I have chewed all day.  Like a dog with a bone.  It would seem that Peter is saying it is not enough to just hope which might be something done in a sporadic way, but that we should cast all our hope on the grace of Jesus Christ in such a manner that it speaks of being abandoned totally to it.  Maybe the word "all" is calling me to put all my eggs in one basket without any fear or reservation. Maybe there is only one thing worthy of all my hope and that is the unexplainable, unmatchable, unexpected favor and mercy offered without any divine accounting to see if I am a worthy recipient.  Such is surely where the Word is calling you and me to put all our hope.