Friday, January 30, 2009
This past Sunday's sermon made reference to a man whose faith I spoke of as reckless in that he heard God speak and then up and left everything, taking wife and children to Africa as a missionary family. Their departure from Africa was in the midst of a violent revolution and they barely escaped with their lives. I shared the sermon with this friend who wrote back saying, "Reckless is probably the best description, but then I was young. I don't think I would have the courage to do it now at 45, knowing what I know about the world." While I understand what he is saying, I can only see him going again if God spoke to him in this day with the same compelling voice that He spoke two decades ago. It never was his courage that took him to Africa, but his faith and the sense of God's call.
As I deal with certain things in ministry, I often think, "Had I known in the beginning that saying 'yes' to God would bring me to this moment, I think I would have said, 'no.'" I remember thinking that very thing the day a young man called me from the hospital asking me to come because his newborn son had died at birth. What takes us into those moments that are greater than our ability to manage is not our courage or our ability to use the right religious sounding words, but a sense that God's call is upon our life.
God's call does not just fall upon the missionary or the local pastor, but upon everyone of us. It is as if we say "yes" to Jesus and He almost immediately says, "Good. I am glad to hear it. Now here is what I want you to do." Once we hear His Word falling upon our life, shirking it becomes something we do at great spiritual peril. Being comfortable, or feeling qualified is never the issue when God speaks to us. When He calls, He also makes the way which is the only reason we would dare to move forward in obedience.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
This past week while driving through some of the neighborhoods on St. Simons Island, I found myself suddenly becoming aware of Psalms 24:1 which as you know reads, "The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it..." And every time I found myself bumping up against this Word, I found myself thinking, "Really?" Everything I was seeing pointed to another possibility. While there is still much left, it seemed that every piece of ground which was not standing in water had a house on it. An island is a finite thing and I wondered how many more can be built before someone has to say, "There is no more land." Houses were everywhere. And across the causeway to the mainland there was always a steady stream of automobiles ferrying people from home to work and back again. As I rode around looking and thinking I wondered if we have come to the place where what we really believe is, "The earth is ours and all that is in it..."
Of course, it is not just a possibility for island dwellers. To think such a thing is a possibility for all of us. It seems that our culture is such a greedy devouring culture. Having enough is not an option when there is more to be possessed. I left the island without a real answer. I kept wondering what is going to happen to us.
And then I saw the answer on the side of the road. The answer was not on a sign. It was not seen by observing the sun lighting up the edge of dark gray clouds. The answer was in the form of a young woman who had parked her car by the side of the road. Off in that space between asphalt and trees, she was picking up someone else's trash. As I sped by, the Word came again that there are still those who are in this world, but not of it. There are still those who know that it belongs to God and we are just here for a time as caretakers. Miles down the road I realized what I should have done. I should have stopped and helped. There was enough trash in that one place for more than one person.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
We just got back from Epworth-by-the-Sea and Winter Campmeeting. For one who seldom gets to hear any preaching, I have heard six sermons since Sunday night and three Bible studies. While some might want to say it is payback for having to sit through so much of my preaching, I can only say that I hope my preaching and teaching is as good as what I was able to hear. I came home today aware that my spiritual life had received some much needed nurture, but that my body was a bit weary from three days away from regular schedules and routines.
It is always good to be in settings where there is an opportunity for worship and nothing is expected of me except being present to participate. And to be able to have that kind of moment at Epworth is always a plus. Epworth is a place of many memories, some of which go back to my teenage and young adult years when I was beginning the journey of faith.
We all need moments of renewal from time to time. Revival meetings used to be the thing which we looked to provide those times, but those kinds of moments have all but disappeared from the life of the church. The world is a different place now and all the books are quick to tell us what different things must be done to reach the different generations, but one thing common to us all is the need from time to time to be renewed in our walk with God. Not to put ourselves where being renewed is possible is to risk waking up with a faith so stale and stagnant that it is mostly useless. I wonder where some of you have found moments where your faith has been renewed.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
One of the recently read books posted on the sidebar is entitled, Three Simple Rules. Written by Rueben P. Job, it is sub-titled, A Wesleyan Way of Living. To be honest the small 77 page volume was given to everyone at last year's June session of Annual Conference. My copy just recently turned up again from some clutter in a cabinet so I decided to read it. Actually, I knew the Three Rules. No ordained member of the United Methodist clergy would want to acknowledge ignorance of these important Wesleyan words. In recent years asking the about to be ordained to recite Wesley's rules has almost become a ritual at Conference.
The three rules are simple. Memorizing them is not such a difficulty. They are:
1. Do No Harm.
2. Do Good.
3. Love God.
I have often recited the rules, but never given the kind of thought to them which Rueben calls his readers to do. As I read what he wrote, I realized again how these simple words can define a lifestyle. What is called simple takes us to the heart of what it means to follow after Jesus. After reading the book, I ordered a number to give away. An email request will get you one.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
On a recent trip I went through Geneva. Not Switzerland. Georgia. The Geneva surrounded by places like Junction City, Waverly Hall, Box Springs, and Talbotton. For those who are not so well versed in travel lore, Geneva, Georgia is not too far from Columbus. Geneva, Georgia is one of those places which has changed very little since I pastored in Talbotton over 30 years ago. Aside from a re-working of a traffic intersection and a new Post Office, it looks much like it did back then. Of course, for me the biggest difference is the absence of the Geneva United Methodist Church.
People who travel through the town today would never even know one used to be in that vacant area near the convenience store. When I was in Talbotton, folks gathered in the Geneva Methodist Church for worship as they had for decades upon decades. The changing times closed the church. Not enough people and not enough money probably drove the decision to shut it down. Later the actual church building was sold (to a Columbus doctor is what I heard) and moved to another place for another purpose.
It always bothers me when I drive by and see the church that is no longer there. I understand some traditions have rituals for de-consecrating holy space, but I have often wondered how that happens. How do you ignore the fact that holy work has been done on certain earthly spots even though there is no building to somehow preserve? I am not so sure about suddenly declaring holy space not holy any more. It bothers me. Too much happened on that spot of the earth. Maybe that is why we have markers. Not only is our agricultural land under attack by the cement and asphalt people, but our sacred spaces are in danger of disappearing as well.