They long ago walked on those grounds made sacred by the prayers of so many as I walked on them only days ago. Long ago on a journey such as theirs, I learned about the hope which enables us to leave such places with a confidence that the last word has not been spoken. Anyone who has been to the cemetery and left without the one carried there knows about the hope that is in my heart. Standing there I was caused to catch a little glimpse of heaven as Hebrews 12:1 came to mind with its powerful image: "...since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses..." Like you, I know some of those who dwell in the heavenly place. Ash Branch Church Cemetery reminded me of one as my heart raced to remember others. You might say that All Saints Sunday Worship came early this year. When I join with others this Sunday to remember those who have gone before us in the past year, I will be remembering that Tuesday afternoon moment when I became aware of the fellowship and communion of the saints at the Ash Branch Church Cemetery. It was a moment of blessing. I left with my heart stirred and encouraged by the overwhelming awareness of unleashed resurrection power. Thanks be to God!
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Upon leaving Pembroke, I saw it. Over on the right was the Ash Branch Primitive Baptist Church. But, what really got my attention and caused me to stop was the cemetery. I knew from some genealogical research done years ago that a great-great-grandmother was buried in the Ash Branch Church Cemetery in an unmarked grave. I had to stop and stand for a few minutes on that ground. Of course, I had no idea where she was buried, but I knew that long ago some of my family came to that very spot, dug a grave, and left a loved one. How different it was then! Such moments are moments that bring strange feelings to the the surface. Questions get raised that have no possible answers. There is just that sense of suddenly being connected to something or someone. I walked around for a time knowing that others before me who bore my name and whose DNA I carry walked here long before me.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
It was one of the darkest clouds I had seen in a long time. I had been watching it for awhile as it built up in the eastern sky. Darker and more turbulent it became as it drew closer. I remember thinking, "Someone is really getting some bad weather this afternoon." As I watched I came to a moment when I realized that this really dark and threatening storm was on a track to move around the place from which I watched. It was almost in the moment of the greatest darkness when I saw it. A rainbow formed that was as splendid in color as the cloud was black in its darkness. There was nothing subdued about the display of color in front that black cloud. It was brilliant.
It was the kind of moment which made you stop what you were doing. I found myself having one of those "Wow!" experiences. I stood there transfixed by what I was seeing and then realized that my thinking had gone to old Noah. From Noah it was a quick step to gratitude for the promises of God. The promise of the rainbow was a promise that caused Noah to know that what had just happened was not only a once-in-a lifetime experience, but a once-in-all-of-time experience as well.
It set me to thinking about the promises of God. The promise of the rainbow is just one of them. And unlike us, God is not a fickle promise maker. He does not say one thing one day and change His mind the next. He promised us a Savior and Deliver. He promised that grace will be sufficient. He promised that we would not be forsaken or left alone. He promised to be with us. He promised that evil and suffering will not have the last word. He promised an eternal home with Him. The rainbow is a reminder of one promise, but it is also a reminder of the One who will not let anything keep Him from keeping His Word.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
My first recollection of memorizing scripture takes me back to a small country church outside of Waycross, Ga. Pierce Chapel Methodist was the name of this church so small the scriptural word about "two or three gathered in my name" would be descriptive of a crowd. Actually, it seated a few more, but not too many. Back then only dirt roads took you there and even then there were more headstones in the surrounding cemetery than there were people in the pews.
On Sunday night a part of the worship service involved the children quoting Bible verses in exchange for a star by your name on the chart which hung alongside the record of attendance. It was because of this holy competition that I learned the shortest verse in the Bible at age 8. It is as you know John 11:35. The NRSV which I now use makes it a bit wordy as it says, "Jesus began to weep." While four words may not seem verbose, please remember the KJV of the Bible simply reads, "Jesus wept." You cannot get any shorter than a verse with two words! Of course, these were also the days for learning things like the 23rd Psalm and John 3:16.
Memorizing scripture is not something I have been as disciplined about as I should have been. The verses I have learned over the years have usually had more to do with frequent usage than being intentional about memorization. For some reason I have recently found myself back at it again. And, yes, I have been working on some verses longer than two words. I have been surprised at the way repeating something for the purpose of memorization causes me to experience the text in a new and different way. Hearing myself say the text over and over brings to light some things I had missed only by silent reading. Interesting. But, then I am likely miles behind you on this one. I imagine some of you remember longer verses than two words when you think of your first Bible memorization efforts. Can you recall the first verse you memorized?
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Some may have noted the "Prayer Note" on the right hand column of the blog. We often talk about the fact that God gives us a verse of scripture. While some people seem to be getting a verse a week, my experience has been a bit different. I do feel that God has led me to certain verses of scripture for particular moments in my life, but maybe not with the frequency experienced by some. I have always felt that way about Psalm 118:14 which I found the night I accepted Jesus and heard a call to preach. It says, The Lord is my strength and my song; and is become my salvation. (KJV) Over the years there have been others, but usually they seemed more for the moment than a life time.
The verse written in the "Prayer Note" section of the blog is one of those verses which has the feel of being given to me out of my walk with God. Again, it says, Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel." I have been carrying this Word with me now for the past several years. I usually go to it sometime during the week and read it and pray it. It is, of course, the Apostle Paul's request to the church. It has become my prayer for my preaching each week as well as a Word which is often used to pray for others who share the calling of preaching.
The thing I have realized about myself ( and some other preachers) is that we are too slow to ask for others to pray for us. Yet, there is no ingredient more important in the recipe for good preaching. I know I do need your prayers if I am to preach as God wants me to preach. It is easy for things to distract me from the task and I am always in need of the steadying and empowering influence of your prayers. I do ask you to pray for me as a preacher of the Word. And I do thank you as you do it.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
After spending all day Saturday listening to Terry Tekyl talk about prayer ministry, I was well primed to go to Springfield UMC on Sunday afternoon and offer some teaching and a sermon on prayer. Ben Martin, a pastor and friend, had invited me up some months ago to share in this event at his church. It was interesting what happened. I have seen it happen before. You go somewhere to offer ministry and find yourself being the one receiving ministry. It seems almost inevitable.
The truth is it is hard for a pastor/worship leader to worship. At least, it has always been that way for me. Throughout the service, my mind is always moving a little ahead of where we are, almost like there is some check list I am monitoring to make sure the worship is on track. I know it sounds like the confession of a control freak. I like to think it is more the confession of someone who wants worship to be everything God wants it to be. Anyway, it is not always easy to worship when you are in charge. So, at Springfield all I had to do was preach. I could sit and experience the service as it started and unfolded. I could just be there and allow what was happening to wash over me. I could just sit and have more than just a moment to receive. Those moments are such blessings. I left there Sunday night renewed in my spirit. I hope those Springfield folks just felt a measure of the blessings that I received. If they did, it was a great moment of being in the presence of the Lord for them as well.
I guess that is not exactly the way it is supposed to work. The one coming should be providing a blessing for those who are already there. It usually works the other way around for me. While I am never sure what is experienced by the home folks, this preacher on the occasions of being a guest preacher, usually ends up being blessed in surprising and unexpected ways. But, then, God is a God who is full of surprises!