Friday, March 27, 2009

Bookend Experiences

What a day! As I walked away from the cemetery a short time ago, I could not help but note the differences and the similarities between morning and afternoon. This morning it was my great privilege to be with someone as she invited Jesus to come into her life. It was the beginning of the journey of faith! Heaven, no doubt, rejoiced! This afternoon I officiated at a memorial service as we noted the completion of a mother and grandmother's journey. While there was evidence of much grief in the place where I was standing, heaven, no doubt, rejoiced!
What a blessing it was to be in both places. I had anticipated the afternoon memorial service, but the ministry of the morning came quite unexpectedly. It served to remind me of what this journey of faith is all about. It is not just a thing that makes us feel better. It not just something which speaks of stepping into the tradition of our family. While our faith certainly impacts us in the present moment, it is at its core something which speaks of a journey with Jesus which begins here and continues for us as we step from the darkness of death to the light of resurrection. Even though we may sometimes be shy in our conversation about it, what we are dealing with is really something that has life and death implications.
My bookend experiences for the day have given a clear reminder of this truth. This faith we embrace is not something of the "take it or leave" category. Today I was reminded again that this faith is a life and death issue and nothing less.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Memory Lane

Sometimes our trips down Memory Lane begin before we even have a chance to catch the road sign. It happened this past Wednesday night as we gathered around here for worship in the Chapel of the church. The Chapel probably would seat 75 thin people. It reminds me of a lot of places from my past. Our worship is very informal with a time of singing and preaching from an Old Testament story. The message last night was from the story of Balaam's talking donkey. (Numbers 22:22 if you doubt!) We sang from "The Cokesbury Hymnal" which used to be the one songbook every Methodist church would have. Not every one knew the songs we sang. One was "Love Lifted Me." Others were "There is Glory in my Soul" and "I Know the Lord Laid His Hand on Me." But, what really took me down Memory Lane was what happened when I invited folks to share their testimony about the goodness of God. One after another stood and soon it seemed that I had stepped back in time to one of those old Testimony Meetings of days gone by.
In those moments I remembered the Pierce Chapel Methodist Church out in the woods east of Waycross. It probably would not even seat 75 thin folks! All the roads to it seemed dangerous to a child. One required driving through a black water branch which flowed across the road. Another meant a long clay hill which was slippery on cloudy days. And the third, was a sandy stretch with two deep ditches that had the power to pull cars off the road if drivers got caught in the sand. But, it was there that I heard my first testimonies. It was there I started learning Bible verses. It was there that I started learning the songs from "The Cokesbury Hymnal," songs which are now carried in the heart.
I am grateful for the images of Memory Lane. It brings to mind the days when faith in Christ started to take root in my life. And while I sometimes bemoan some of the things about the denomination which baptized and ordained me, I am so grateful for the way it has nurtured me, sustained me, and affirmed God's call on my life for ministry. I can only hope and pray that each of the children entrusted to us is finding a church where their own journeys of faith can begin.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Still Alive

For some reason, the vision of the disappearing mosquito hawk has lingered in a more prominent place in my memory than it should. After all, the mosquito hawk was the not the central character in this life and death drama which unfolded on the hood of the truck. (See preceding post.) Of course, if mosquito hawks could talk, it might beg to differ! In a sense the mosquito hawk came back to life last night as I was doing some reading in the Kingsolver book entitled, "Animals, Vegetables, Miracle." While she was writing about taking the lives of animals on the farm for food, I immediately thought, "Ah, the mosquito hawk!"
She quoted some lines from Kahlil Gibran.
"When you kill a beast, say to him in your heart:
By the same power that slays you, I too am slain, and I too
shall be consumed.
For the law that delivers you into my hand shall deliver me
into a mightier hand.
Your blood and my blood is naught but the sap that feeds
the tree of heaven."
While it may seem strange to quote such a verse, it gave closure to the death of the mosquito hawk. And, of course, in these days when the ashes of Ash Wednesday have scarcely disappeared and the words, "You are dust and to dust you shall return" are still lingering in the air, it seems somehow like a God word for me that offers a measure of perspective.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Mosquito Hawks

It was a nice day. After the rain, the sun was shining. Gray clouds had been replaced by blue sky. All seemed right in the world. For a moment I just sat there in the truck admiring all that was around me. Suddenly, one of God's creatures landed on the hood. While I am no bird expert, it looked like a small bunting or finch. It had the appearance of having a bad feather day as it looked as if it had just gotten out of the shower. Then, all of a sudden, this bird which landed facing away from me, turned as to eyeball me. No more than a five or six feet separated us as we sat looking at each other through the windshield. It was then that I saw another one of God's creatures. It was a mosquito hawk. Now for the non-informed, mosquito hawks are not birds with great wings, but small insects of two to four inches in length. Actually, I only saw the back half of the mosquito hawk. The front half was already becoming bird food. In a second both ends were gone and in another second or two, my feathered companion was gone, too. Perhaps, it went looking for another mosquito hawk.
Creation is an amazing thing. Anyone who has ever watched a mosquito hawk flitting around in the air can only have appreciation for another winged creature which can catch one while both are flying. It struck me as a marvel of creation. It also spoke a word about the connectedness of the order God has brought into being. Living with respect for every living creature truly is the appropriate way to live. Even sand gnats! Yes, some creatures are a stretch, but even these pesky things are creatures of God.
And then I found myself immediately thinking about Jesus saying, "Don't worry. Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" It was an assuring word in these uncertain times. It was nice to be reminded of God's provision. But, then another question came to mind. I wondered what the mosquito hawk thought as it was becoming lunch.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Wish

One of the guys in the Disciple Bible Study group I lead recently sent an email excusing himself from the upcoming session. After offering a reason for his absence, Bill went on to write, "I am reading Acts for class and find it a fascinating book. There is so much information in it. I was very interested in Cornelius's vision and then Paul witnessing and the Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit. Wow! And Paul...he traveled far and wide in the name of Jesus. It was very inspiring to read about all his experiences."
Bill, like some of the others around here, has not been a Christian as long as I have. There is a freshness about the faith of these folks that is so spiritually invigorating. I read his note and wished that I could read Acts again like it was the first time. While I am sure Bill has read Acts before, his response is more like someone who is reading and catching its excitement for the first time. I wish I could read the Scripture in such a way. After so many readings, it becomes easy to read the story without really reading the story; therefore, shortchanging the possibility of what the Spirit might be able to do with the reading of something read so many times.
Interestingly enough, I can remember the first time I really read the Scripture. I was a teenager in Alamo and the Lord, unknown to me at the moment, was drawing me toward Him in such a way that a life's journey of faith was about to begin. I can remember the amazement at some of the things I was reading. I can remember wondering if it could possibly be true! Would it not be a wonderful thing if our next reading of the Word would create as much excitement in our spirits as the reading of Acts did for Bill!