Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Songbook in my Heart

This morning as we were singing Blessed Assurance in worship, I remembered why I did not need to know the page number. I remembered why the words to this song are unnecessary. It is simple. I carry in my heart the words to this song as well as so many others. I surely learned a lot of them by going to church every Sunday (morning and evening) almost all of my life. Even the slowest of learners begins to remember after singing some song a hundred or so times. I guess I cannot remember when I did not know Blessed Assurance, or The Old Rugged Cross, or Amazing Grace, or Love Lifted Me, or The Unclouded Day, or more than just a few of the songs in the old Methodist standby, The Cokesbury Hymnal.
However, the truth is that no matter how many I learned because I sang them at church, a goodly portion of the songbook I carry around in my heart has to do with my Mother. Although she did sing in a church choir some, she did not really think of herself as a singer. But, whenever we started on a trip to visit relatives in another town, or to visit the cemetery, or to buy groceries, my sister and I would invariably be joining her in singing some gospel song as we went. From her I learned a multitude of songs. Whenever I find myself singing a hymn without any need to open the book, it is because of the way she made sure we were in worship and the way she sang with us as we traveled. No need for a radio. We had our own music and even now I carry it with me.
Even when our children may seem to us to be too young to know what is going on, it is likely they are getting something by what I call spiritual osmosis. Even when I was not paying attention, stuff was settling in my heart. I did not know as a child that this songbook was being saved in my heart, but it was. And today, I am deeply grateful that wherever I go, I can launch into one of those old songs of faith and worship God.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Narthex Man

The Narthex Man showed up this past Wednesday night while the "Jews for Jesus" group was singing and testifying in the Sanctuary. When I got up from my seat to give the ushers some instructions about the offering, I saw him seated on one of the short benches in the Narthex. His backpack was on the floor. His dress seemed to announce him as one in need of some help. I invited him to join us in the Sanctuary, but he declined. He just wanted to rest a minute, was not dressed well enough, and could hear fine with the speakers in the Narthex. Such is what he said.
After the service was over, I went back to see the Narthex Man and found one of our youth engaged in conversation with him. As I joined them, I found out he was riding a bike from Florida to his home in New York. However, the bike was about done. The afternoon repair job was not going to take him far. I offered him a meal and a place to stay which he declined by asking for the money I was going to spend on the motel. He could use it and some money which friends would wire from New York to buy a bus ticket. As I was unable to respond as he wanted, he put on his backpack, got on his bike and headed out with intentions of getting into Savannah before calling it a day.
I have learned over the years that sometimes you can help, but not all the time. Narthex Man seemingly received nothing from our church. But, he did receive one thing. He heard the music of "Jews for Jesus" and he heard from one of them a very clear message about Jesus. He also heard an invitation to walk with Him. Before Narthex Man left, John and I prayed with him. I would have been glad to have given him a place to rest and shower, but it was not possible. What he did receive may have far more benefits than anything I could have offered. Jesus was being offered in the next room and through the speakers in the narthex. I can only pray that Narthex Man heard the message and will remember until he says, "Yes!"

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The "Whats"

Some years ago I received a gift subscription for the magazine, Pray! Prior to that moment, I had never seen a whole magazine devoted to prayer. As my year was running out, I decided to renew and have been reading it now for a few years. A recent article read during a devotional moment really grabbed my attention. I think in some ways it brought to mind an earlier post entitled, Impossible Prayers. The author of the article was writing about using prayer retreats to discern God's leading for the church. (Now there is a new idea!) United Methodists have always figured such discernment was supposed to be done by committee and common consensus. Who would have ever thought to ask God? The article described how the retreat participants took turns sharing what each had been hearing from the Lord. He spoke of that experience as the "whats." As an example he wrote, "...when God called Abram (Gen. 12:1-5)), He only revealed the 'what'--'I will make you into a great nation.' The 'how' it would all come about , was left for later.'"
It made me think about other Biblical stories. The "what" of the Moses' story was going to Egypt. The "what" of Samuel's story was to go to the house of Jesse. The "what" of Mary's story was the birth of Jesus. As I reflected on the writing and the stories, I realized that I like for my "what" to be accompanied by a "how." Perhaps, putting the two together is just human nature. But, my reflection points to some other issues as well. Maybe one of the issues is the issue of control. It is not enough to know what God wants. I also want to know how it is going to happen. Of course, this takes out the faith dimension. It also short-circuits my ability to catch the bigger visions of God. In the end my faith walk is diminished by unwillingness to walk where I cannot see.
I suspect many a grand vision has been cast aside as impossible, or impractical, or not likely to happen because of the demand that the "how" be seen alongside the initial revelation of God. I fear it has been too much that way for me, but hopefully, not for you.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Other Book

While the one book which has influenced me more than any others is the Bible, the other book in my life is one written in the late 1920s. I was pointed to it by a young woman at Asbury College who would later become my wife. I have gone through more than one copy of it over the years, and like the Scripture, it has never been far from my side. It has been my mainstay for daily devotions for the past 40 years. I have used other things, but those things have always been used in addition to My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. Actually, the book was written by his widow who went through her husband's talks and writings and compiled this daily devotional reading some ten years after his death. Known as "Biddy" this woman worked to see 50 books published bearing her husband's name. In none of them does she give herself any credit for anything written.
I could not possibly count the folks I have pointed to Oswald Chambers. Like the scritpure, My Utmost for His Highest, has undergirded and nurtured my spiritual journey. It has shaped my theology, my preaching, and my heart. While there are many more contemporary devotional volumes out there on the market, Chamber's writing continues to enjoy popularity and wide readership. For me the value of books has always been connected to the way they stand the test of time. Will it have fleeting popularity, or will it still be read long after all the news releases have disappeared? With this in view, it would probably surprise no one to know that books like The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, Practicing the Presence by Brother Andrew, The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, and anything written by C.S. Lewis or Henri Nouwen, two more recent writers, are high on my list of "must reads for every believer."
Of course, having something that will be used for devotional readings is far more important than having something because someone else does and then never reading it. We all find different writings helpful in our spiritual journey. I have many different devotional guides on the shelf, some have been used and some have hardly been opened. The last one I would let go would be My Utmost for His Highest. What would you hang on to the longest?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sunday Stuff

Growing up in the South at the time I did gave me first hand experiences with the list of things you could and could not do on Sunday. It was the Blue Law era. My first remembered instructions came from my father who told me, "You don't fish on Sunday." At the time he was not a Christian and his reason for this Sunday law was more practical than religious. "You need to give the fish a rest," he would say. This was a word from an avid fisherman! As a child I learned you didn't go to the movies on Sunday and you didn't shop on Sunday (mainly because the stores were not open). As a teenager I discovered it was ok to have a date after Sunday night church if you went to church on Sunday morning and evening. By the time I was a teenager, the times were obviously beginning to change. The only thing really allowable on Sunday was going to church and visiting aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and cemeteries which was a part of our Sunday afternoon ritual. Sunday was thought of as a day of rest even though it it might have seemed to some that it was a day of imposed rest.
Sunday was a day for not doing some things, but it was also a day for worship. Around my house it was never an option. There was no question of choice. It was simply something you did. I remember returning home from college for my first weekend visit and telling my mother on Sunday morning that I wouldn't be going that Sunday since I wanted to sleep. I don't remember exactly what she said, but I do know that when the worship hour began I was present. I think it was something about "as long as you put your feet under my table," or something which carried a similar tone.
Things are certainly different now than in those days. As far as society goes, it is "anything goes!" It is different for me personally as well. No longer is it a day determined by what cannot be done. Instead, it has become a day that determines how I will live the rest of the week. It provides an important center for my life always speaking about two important issues. It speaks to me about the need for balance between what is physical and spiritual. I am not an either-or creature. Sunday also speaks to me about my place in this relationship between God and humanity. I am not in control. God is.