Thursday, April 30, 2009
As I have gotten older, I find myself praying more. While I have always prayed, there have certainly been seasons of my life when the practice of it would declare it to be something of little value. I look back at those times with regret. I think one of the differences between then and now is the difference between duty and desire. For too long I prayed out of a sense of oughtness. Praying was something that was my duty and responsibility. In more recent years, I have become aware that the duty has been replaced by a desire to experience God. Please do not think I have arrived. There is still the sense of struggle. There still exists the temptation to use my time for other things of lesser value and then use my power of rationalization to justify the substitution. Prayer is, after all, a spiritual discipline and the word "discipline" speaks of the effort necessary to sustain a relationship.
Perhaps, it is also true that the years have hammered home the realization that I cannot make it alone. I cannot make it without the ongoing presence of God in my life. In my strongest moments, I know I am still too weak to make it without that connection with the One who created me. David had it right when he wrote what we find in the 11th verse of that 51st Psalm: "Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me." More important than anything else was his need to experience the presence of God.
Of all the blessings which come because of the practice of prayer, surely this single one is the most blessed. To be in the presence of God, to sense His Spirit stirring in our hearts, to know we are once again at one with Him, to experience divine communion with the One who knows us; yet, still loves us--surely, these are the most valued treasures of our moments alone with God. And even now, Holy Father, I thank You for reminding me.
A couple of months ago I started reading a book entitled, Divine Strongholds" by Terry Teykl. However, after reading part of one chapter, I put it down. It sometimes happens that way. I start out reading with every intention of reading a book and then, suddenly, it is in the unread stack on the corner of the desk. I just could not seem to really get involved with what the author was writing. A few weeks ago I noticed it sticking out from under the pile, pulled it out, and started reading again. This time I have been unable to put it down. I even plan to copy one chapter and share it with the church staff.
It has often seemed to me that the Spirit takes us to books at times when we have a need to read its message. Often people talk about the way the Holy Spirit leads them to read certain passages of Scripture. I have done so myself. But, it also appears that the Spirits leads us to other things to read as well. What I read in the Teykl book the other day could not have addressed the circumstances of my life more clearly had I sat down with the author and said, "Write this." To be honest, doing so would have been impossible. Sometimes we are unable to articulate the things which are stirring in our heart and we need someone else to say it for us. And, we need the Holy Spirit to direct us to what it is we need to read.
It has happened often enough now that I am not surprised to find myself stumbling into a word once put aside and reading it with a silent, "Wow!" God speaks in all sorts of ways. Perhaps, there are those moments when the time is simply not right for us to receive a Word that is as plain as the black and white print of a book in the unread stack on the corner of the desk. I often wonder if others experience the work of the Spirit in this way as well.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Whenever old friends stop by, it is always such a blessing. Now, by using the term "old friends," I do not necessarily mean decrepit and ancient in years, but friends from the past. One such friend stopped by worship here this past Sunday morning. I knew Bobby was likely to be coming. We had re-connected a few months ago. He was down from his North Carolina home visiting overnight with extended family here in Richmond Hill. The last time we spent much time together it was when we were on the basketball team at Wheeler County High School. I guess that helps define old friend as well. When I think of Bobby Bass, I see this young dark haired teenage guy dribbling the basketball down the court. Need I say, we would both be hard pressed to do much going up and down the court these days!
After worship we sat in the office and talked some about old times, common friends from the past, and shared some of the twists and turns of our lives since those days. Though we never talked about it when we were young, both of us had arrived at a place where one of the things we held in common was a deep faith in Christ. It meant a lot to me to know to know someone cared enough to make the effort to see an old friend again. Affirming the connection again caused me to realize that we truly are not alone. There are those who care about us and there are those we care about. Some of those are seen and some are unseen.
Having Bobby stop by makes me think about my need to be a better friend to those who have been a part of some of the intersections of my life. Those folks who have met me at the various intersections of my life were blessings from God. They added to my life. They remain friends, perhaps, seldom seen, but still people of great value. Sunday I was reminded that I need to be more intentional about caring for the "people blessings" God has given me.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Joe and I were best of friends in high school. We lived across the street from each other. Every afternoon after school our ritual was to walk the three blocks to the drug store in Alamo to get a fountain cherry coke. When we got back home, there were things like baseball, or ham radio, or ping pong in the church fellowship hall. We were inseparable friends. Everyone needs someone like Joe while growing up. Joe left Alamo a year behind me, went to Georgia Tech, got married, was diagnosed with cancer, and was gone far too soon.
Joe is the first friend I lost to cancer. Unfortunately, there have been others after him. On this day when "Relay for Life" is taking place in many communities, I found myself remembering Joe, his courage, his faith, and his determination to live his life as fully as he possibly could. Over the years I have been with so many who have struggled as Joe struggled long years ago. Some like my high school friend died far too soon while others still walk in our midst as sufferers and survivors.
Today I simply wanted to honor this friend from so long ago by calling his name as a way of declaring him not forgotten. And I also find myself wanting to pray for the many I know who still struggle, who still hope, and who still pray for God's healing. "Father God, never have I understood why some things happen the way they do. I am grateful Joe had a place ready for him in heaven when he needed it. And I pray for those sufferers and survivors who are here with us and I ask in Your Son's name that eqch one might know the divine blessings of spiritual wholeness and physical healing. Lord, in Your mercy, hear my prayers. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayers. Amen."
Friday, April 3, 2009
I went to Blue Ridge, Georgia during my first quarter at Young Harris College. I was just a few months beyond age 18 and only a little further from that night in the Alamo Parsonage when I gave my life to Jesus and heard a call to preach. The first part of that divine encounter was great, but the second part was not something I was ready to accept. A new college friend invited me to go on a Lay Witness Mission his Dad was leading at the Blue Ridge Methodist Church. For those not in the know, a Lay Witness Mission was about a group of lay people going into a local church for a weekend to share their faith in Christ. I came away from that weekend mission knowing that I no longer could turn away from the call to preach. I had my first taste of what it meant to be used by God in ministry and somehow even at that early age, I knew it was where I wanted to be. I left Blue Ridge as one who finalized a decision that has bridged a lifetime.
I remembered this tonight as I read in the local newspaper the obituary of Harold Lumley. His son was the one who took me along on that trip to Blue Ridge. His Dad was used by God that weekend to help me crystallize a call that has taken me on a journey I would not want to have missed. I am sure I am just one of many who could tell stories of faith which would speak of the influence of this man who heard God's call to lead Lay Witness Missions.
I am not sure he ever really knew what the weekend meant in my life. I never really got around to telling him. Most likely as a young man, I failed to realize the way folks like him had such a hand in shaping my spiritual journey. As an older man, I know my debt to him. And so, on this night when I hear of his passing from earth to heaven, it is important to call his name again, and to say, "Thanks!"