Friday, October 30, 2009
Like many, my first experience with the disicpline of a daily devotion came with my Mother. It was she who taught me to pray, not the Lord's Prayer, but the childhood prayer, "Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen." As I look back I realize that my first prayer was a frightening one. I guess it is a good thing I did not dwell too much on the part about not waking up, or I never would have gone to sleep! As I moved away from the memorized childhood prayers prayed at bedtime, I started including some Bible readings and a daily devotional like "The Upper Room."
It was at college that I found Oswald Chamber's "My Utmost for His Highest." It is the only book other than my Bible that had to be replaced because it suffered from being used, worn out, and falling apart. Just this past week I was reading one of Chamber's devotions again and found myself amazed at how it continues to be such a strong word for me after so many years of reading. If I could only have two books, one would be the Bible and the other would be this daily devotional book by Chambers.
Over the years one thing I have learned again and again is how important it is to have some time each day that is set aside and dedicated to God. When there is no time for being in the presence of God, life soon becomes unmanageable, people become more annoying, and my sense of God's presence in my life is blurred.
When I left the Stapleton Charge, I moved from Jefferson County to Washington County. While I served the Stapleton Charge one year after completing seminary, Tennille would be my first appointment at which I would not be known first as a student pastor. While I went to my second appointment full of optimism and hope, things did not go well and at the end of two years, I was on my way to another place. An issue arose, conflict followed, and being a young inexperienced preacher, I was ill prepared to handle those days. I was young, full of idealism, and saw myself as one armed with what was right. There was within me no spirit of compromise.
It was the formula for disaster which was what ensued. It took me a long time, much longer than it should have to accept my share of the responsibility for what happened. It took me longer to realize when I left Tennille that I carried an unforgivng heart to the next place. I still remember the day I heard about the misfortune of one of my antagonists from the past. I thought, "Good, he got what he deserved." It was then that I knew there was some spiritual work needed in my heart.
Forgiving is never an easy thing. If it was easy, it might not be the valuable thing that it is. Many years later God would provide an opportunity to go back to Tennille and it became a wonderful day of reconciliation. Of all the trips back to a former pastorate, I am most thankful for the trip back that day some years later when handshakes were shared, words of regret and sorrow were spoken, and memories of brokenness were replaced with a memory of reconciliation.
I started reading a new Bruce Wilkinson book recently. It is entitled "You Were Born for This." Years ago after Wilkinson had written "The Prayer of Jabez," I attended a national evangelism meeting in Washington, DC where he was the keynote speaker. At that time I had intentionally made a choice not to read his book, but after hearing him speak for several hours over two days, I was greatly affected by the passionate faith in his heart. So, I read the Jabez book and everything he has written since that first small volume. While I am not sure faithful living can always be melted down to a few steps or keys, Wilkinson's books speak to me as they cause me to see how easy it is to settle for something less than what God desires to give to us. When I read his books, I am reminded how easy it is to settle for mediocre Christian living when God is calling us to something that speaks of extraordinary Christian living.
Some are critical of Wilkinson's stuff because it comes across at first glance as a "You do this and God will have to do this" approach to faith. However, instead of seeing it as an attempt to manipulate God, it has seemed to me that the author is saying that this life of faith is more about the faithfulness of God to keep His Word than mere human effort.
While I am only fifty pages deep into the book, already I have heard this message about settling. What Wilkinson says is not anything radical. He just reminds me through a different style of writing and presenting the gospel that it is easy for me to sell God short. When I am tempted to create some graven image in my mind or through my theology, it always seems to be a God who is less able, less powerful, less involved, and less willing than the One revealed to us in the Holy Word. The golden calf was a sign of a lack of trust. Selling God short by settling for less when He wants to do more in me and through me is no different.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
I will be honest and confess it. Sometimes Sundays are to preachers what Mondays are to many who start their work week. Today was one of those tough Sundays. In addition to two worship services and Disciple Bible Study, two administrative meetings were scheduled. Lately, it seems like it has been one meeting after another. The fall months can get to be a bit much on the administrative side as the church moves toward Charge Conference with all its attendant budget and leadership issues to be resolved. To say I did not get started with the best of attitudes today would be a fair thing to say.
As I was driving to the church, I found myself hurrying so I could sit down for our 8:30 am prayer time before worship. I knew I needed it and the way it tends to bring me into focus with a renewed spirit for the things that are before me. This morning as we prayed in the office, I could not help but hear and be a bit distracted by the noise of people murmuring and the rustling of papers on the other side of the slightly ajar door. But, it soon settled down and the prayer session continued without further distractions.
After my Sunday morning prayer partners left, I heard that same rustling of paper noise outside the door and in bounded someone loaded down with a pot of bright yellow flowers, a bag filled with goodies, and a balloon announcing, "We love you!" "It's Pastor Appreciation Day and we appreciate you!" she announced for herself and her two children. And then she was gone. I sat there for a moment more than a bit overwhelmed. God was at the door while we were praying and I am surely grateful He hung around to enter. It was indeed a much needed word of encouragement and blessing!
Sunday, October 4, 2009
It happened again this morning around the Table. I should have been looking for it after the last several months, but once more I found myself caught by surprise. Once again it was a child whom God used to say a word about what was happening in that holy frame. She was six or seven and down the rail from me about ten feet. I was preparing to speak the Table dismissal when I heard a quiet commotion which caused me to pause and look her way. She had just drained the small cup in a rather dramatic fashion. Her head was still turned back and the cup was in the air on its way to the rail when she exclaimed slightly above a whisper, "Yeah!" Her face was the picture of joy and her voice was the sound of exuberance. When I saw her, I knew at least one person had gotten it right!
What made the moment all the more compelling was the Word which had been read only a short time earlier. As soon as I heard her "Yeah!" I remembered what I had just read to the gathered people. It was from Mark's gospel. In the 15th verse of the 11th chapter we hear Jesus saying, "Truly, I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it."
It was at this point that I heard another "Yeah!" This time it came forth from my own heart. The child had it more right than I did with all my theological training and decades of experience. I had been moving along doing what was supposed to be done, experiencing something of what God was about there around the rail, but not like the child with the upturned head and smacking lips. When God saw her, He surely must have laughed knowing that at least one of his children experienced what was happening as good. I could not help but wonder about the rest of us.