Saturday, February 28, 2009
Lately, I have been watching ministries in our church which are like invisible things. They are invisble because few see them. They are not really ministries which are featured in the newsletter or given spoken attention during the announcement time of Sunday morning worship. If you are one of the home folks, maybe you have noticed as well. The Read the Bible in the Sanctuary ministry which started late last year has now reached the 42nd chapter of Psalms. During the week the Bible is being read aloud in the Sanctuary as a way of inviting God to be present with us as we gather. Those who read the Word faithfully envision God being made to feel welcome in the place where His Word is read. Another ministry which is one of these invisible ministries is the ministry of one who walks through the worship places on Sunday morning praying over each pew and each place where people will gather. And unknown to many, a few have heard the call to do home visitation, a visitation which has at its heart, sharing faith in Christ.
There are some others which surely are invisble to many, but which I have been seeing. My impression is that these things are seen by God as having greater value to the work of the Kingdom than some of the things about which we spend so much time tooting our horns. I say this because such is the way God seems to do His stuff. He takes the little stuff, the things that seem inconsequential, the people who seem insignificant and does extraordinary things.
It makes me think about my life. Maybe my preaching or teaching or other public acts of ministry are not as important as I think. Could it be that the time spent before God reading His Word and praying are of far more value to the work of the Kingdom than all I do that others see?I really wonder why I even bother to pose such a thought. If I remember correctly, the Word of God has something to say about that very thing!
It would not have surprised me if I had heard a voice on the loudspeaker saying, "Customer needs assistance in the produce section!" I probably did. It happened a few weeks ago as I was standing in front of the out-of-season, over priced, imported-fresh-all-the-way-from-Chile blueberries. As I was contemplating the purchase, I started having this theological meltdown. All of a sudden I started remembering a book by Barbara Kingsolver entitled, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle." It is a good read, but a slow one. For months I have been moving through the words on the pages and the issues she raises. Kingsolver's thesis is that we should eat what is local and what is in season instead of depending on food shipped across the country or the world. Instead of paying too much for blueberries in February, she would tell me to wait until June. She would tell me there is some value in waiting and anticipating and enjoying what is provided when it is provided.
I find it a sensible lesson, but a hard one. Being a part of this culture of ours, I am addicted to the idea of having what I want when I want it. What I was experiencing in the produce section was not just a craving for out-of-season blueberries, but something called a desire for instant gratification. To bring that word out of the closet is to see why I called that moment a theological meltdown. While I may be hooked on instant gratification, God is definitely not. He is not in the business of rushing things to keep me on the happy, contented, and satisfied list.
I know better than to buy into what the culture is selling, but knowing does not take away the temptation. I still find myself wanting God to do something now. I still find myself looking for my fleeces to turn up like I need them to be. I still find myself wanting it to happen now instead of later. I still want those blueberries.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Perhaps, I have lost the right to talk about physical exercise. My sister who is a Personal Fitness Trainer is far more qualified than I am, but one thing I have learned over the years is that stretching before movement is not a waste of time. It is the stretching exercises that get our bodies ready for the more strenuous stuff which comes after stretching tight muscles.
On the sidebar of the postings I have included a note about another blog called Rick Bonfim Ministries. While I have never had any personal relationship with Rick Bonfim, I have known about him since college. Recently, for some reason I started receiving notices of new postings on his blog. He has a different way of writing about spiritual stuff. His ministry and the way God seems to be at work in his heart is so different than mine. Yet, his recent blog postings have been like spiritual stretching exercises. They have caused me to think beyond the boundaries of my own personal experiences. They have raised questions for which I am not sure I have answers. They make me wonder if I need to be involved in more strenuous work in my personal life with God.
It makes no sense to just do the stretches if we are not going to do the real exercise work. Who does the stretches and then says, "Hey, that was good. Guess I will go back to the sofa now." No, such is not how it works, at least not for those who are moving toward fitness. In the same way it makes no sense to think that the Spirit would lead me to something which feels like a spiritual stretching exercise without the expectation that I would be willing to take the next step. I guess I am wondering about the next step.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
The years have a way of slipping by causing us to forget exactly when some things began. Offering Ash Wednesday worship to a community of believers is one such thing. I can remember the first place I led such a moment of worship, but the exact year has slipped away. At least 15 years or more would be a good guess. Tonight there was one more.
It always leaves me overwhelmed with what we have shared together as pastor and people. There is no moment quite like it. One at a time folks come to receive the imposition of ashes. There is that moment when intimacy is experienced as we share each other's space. While some close their eyes, others come with eyes wide open as if to search the heart of the man who touches them with ashes. It always strikes me as a strange and powerful moment. Before me are people I have come to know these six years, people who have come to know me, people with whom I have shared all kinds of struggles and joys. Before me are people whom I have come to love and to whom I want to say the encouraging and hopeful word. Yet, tonight as each came I marked their foreheads with ashes, and said, "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return."
What I said was, "Remember, you are going to die." It is a sobering moment to repeat these words over and over to one person after another after another. Some are very old. Some are still children being led forward by the hand of a parent. Ash Wednesday reminds us of our need to repent so that we can live well what is left of our life. It speaks a powerful word about our human mortality. And, yes, it always makes me look forward to Easter Sunday when I can boldly declare that though we die, yet shall we live, because Jesus has been raised from the dead. Thanks be to God!
Thursday, February 19, 2009
One of the pleasures and privileges of ministry at this time in my life is the opportunity given me to lead sessions on preaching and worship to young preachers at License to Preach School at Epworth each February. I always tell these folks to preach with an expectation that people will respond. Today I was reminded of this lesson as I received an email from an unknown guy named Ryan from Cleveland, Ohio. According to his email he was surfing the web looking for sermons on holiness when he found a six sermon series I preached last summer entitled, Holiness: Our Heritage. I placed the sermon series on the church webpage and mostly forgot about it. About the first sermon in the series, Ryan wrote, "It blessed the socks off me!"
I must confess that I have never heard that as a response to a sermon. I have heard the usual, "Enjoyed the sermon, Preacher," and once was told, "That was the worst sermon I have ever heard," but never, "It blessed the socks off me!" But, what really struck me was the way God used a printed sermon on a church webpage to speak to another person on his spiritual journey. From my perspective, it is nothing short of amazing that his search for "sermons on holiness" would take him to my sermons on our church's webpage. I cannot even begin to think about the possibilities for such a search.
Yet, today, I was sitting there reading this email and found myself saying, "Wow!" And then I remembered the lesson taught to others last week. But, to be honest, I cannot help but be amazed that a sermon I preached would still be something useful in the hands of God. It was enough to think that it might have been when it was preached. "Yes, God, You are indeed full of surprises. Thank You for showing me again. Amen."