Saturday, June 30, 2012


Last Sunday when I entered the sanctuary up at Rocky Ford, I found my attention being drawn toward the Table.  I noticed the paraments and the polished table ware.  It was a clear proclamation that someone had lingered around that holy place, doing some careful work, and providing visual worship aids for those of us who would come later.  Servant ministry is what someone did.  Servant ministry is seldom done while others are watching.  The spotlight is turned off.  No one is around to applaud or say, "Way to go!"  Servant ministry just happens because of the heart of the servant.

Over the years of ministry, I have seen evidence of servants wondering around before I arrived.  Musicians are an obvious group of folks who do servant ministry.  While they are seen and heard on Sunday morning, there is a lot of time invested in preparation that no one sees or thinks about.  Most of the time they are not so easily seen.  Communion stewards do their work before and after others are present.  I remember a man named John who made sure a pitcher of ice water and several cups were stashed away under the pulpit every Sunday.  And then, there was Tim who annually cooked steaks for the staff retreat.  I cannot even begin to count all those who serve by praying faithfully day after day, week after week, year after year.  Servants keep the church in motion.

While it may be hard to catch these servants in action, it is usually easy to see evidence that they have been around.  Maybe you have seen where some have been around ahead of you, or perhaps, even served you in some way.  It is never too late to see.  Nor is too late to say thanks, if not to them, at least to the Father.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


When I went to my first appointment back in 1971, one of the three churches on the charge was named Bethel.  Every 4th Sunday I preached morning and evening at this small country church in Glascock County.  I am sure I was not the first, nor the last, preacher to use the story of Jacob's dream at a place he named Bethel as a preaching text.  Back then I learned that Bethel meant "House of God."  Over the years I have decided from my own observations that Bethel must be the most popular name for a church.

On a recent road trip I saw new evidence to support this observation.  Not only did I see more churches named Bethel than I could count, I also saw churches named "New Bethel," "El Bethel," and "Big Bethel."  None of these churches were very big buildings, not even Big Bethel.  When I saw Big Bethel, I started looking for Little Bethel, but that one was never seen. 

I can understand why so many might choose Bethel as the name for their church.  It is certainly Biblical as it brings to mind that story of Jacob found in the 28th chapter of Genesis.  Jacob had this dream in which he experienced the reality of God's presence and the promise of abiding presence.  It was such a powerful, life changing moment that he woke that morning, marked the place as sacred space by pouring oil upon the stone he had used as a pillow, and said, "Surely, the Lord is in this place...How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the House of God, and this is the gate of heaven." (Genesis 28:16-17)  Would it not be a wonderful thing if we regarded our sacred space in such an extraordinary way!  What a difference it would make if we did!

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Even though I had not seen one in a long time, I knew immediately what I was looking at when I saw KLUJICS in bright orange letters on the small card sitting on the sink in the bathroom at Lowe's.  Actually, they were a lot of them placed in strategic places where folks would be sure to see them.  Curious about the meaning of the letters, I picked one up and read, "Keep Looking Up Jesus Is Coming Soon."  Of course, the rest of the religious tract was filled with the expected scripture about salvation, Jesus, and eternal options.  I put it back on the counter for the next person.

I have never really been comfortable with "tract ministries."  I am sure some have picked one up, read it, and had a life changing experience.  God uses all sorts of avenues to connect with His people.  My aversion to them is more about me than knowing the degree to which they are useful.  And then, too, there is this thing about believers slipping in some public place and secretly leaving religious literature which tricks people into reading.  I guess I have an aversion to this kind of "hit and run" ministry.

But, there is another side to it.  Religious tracts have a way of getting right to the point.  The church and those of who us give spiritual leadership sometimes seem to have trouble focusing on things essential to the gospel.  Confessing that the church is often more interested in ministries of self preservation than soul preservation ministries is not an easy thing to acknowledge.  Getting better is not the thrust of the message of Jesus.  Being changed into something new is what He has come to make reality.  Maybe the aversion to religious tracts really is more about me and the way I wonder if ministry has been more church centered than Christ centered. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Then and Now

Being an older and worn out preacher (a traditional phrase for describing retired Methodist preachers) gives one a different vantage point than the one I had when I was a younger and green-as-a-gourd preacher.  When the ink is still fresh on ministerial credentials, it seems that ministry in the church is all about me.  It is easy to think that enough effort will generate enough wind to make even the deadest of churches to rise and soar in the blue sky of ecclesiastical success.  Those were the days when I was sure no one would nod off while I was preaching.  Those were the days of being surprised when a former church did fine without me.

While good strong leadership is an important factor in the equation of church life, the years have helped me see that it is really more about us than just me.  The truth is that whatever is accomplished in ministry happens as we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.  The good done by my pastoral predecessors was the foundation upon which I worked and served.  The good things which we counted as the things we did were the results of prayers prayed by the many who knelt in places of intercession through the years. 

And, of course, the One who really is responsible for remembered blessings is the Holy Spirit. Our sense of what we have done often seems to make Him more the object of lip service than the divine dynamic which makes the real difference in the life of any church.  It is amazing that He continues to bless given the credit really given to Him.  It only goes to show it is more about divine grace than human effort.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Last Person

No matter how many times a section of the Scripture is read, there is no guarantee you have gotten it all.  Matter of fact, there is more of a guarantee that there is still something more to be discovered.  I was made aware of this recently as I read the words of an author who wrote, "When Noah was building his ark, God gave him detailed instructions for everything: how high, no higher; how long; no longer; what species to include and in what numbers--details ad nauseum.  But when all had been done according to God's instructions and the door was finally shut, it must have been a terrifying experience to realize there was no sail or rudder on this ark.  Who was in control?"  (Has Christianity Failed You? by Ravi Zacharias)  When I read the paragraph, I immediately went to Genesis and read the story of Noah again just to see if the author was right.  He was.  There is no mention of sail or rudder.  The thing floated!

Now, I do not claim to read the Bible as much as I should, but I have been reading it for over 55 years now and Noah's story was surely one of the first to be read.  I never got that little tidbit of omission which declared very loudly that God was and is in control.  It was one of those "close the book in amazement" moments for me. 

I suppose everyone else saw this a long time ago. It is an obvious enough truth once someone points it out to me.  Certainly, it is one of those truths learned through my many attempts to build a rudder or fabricate a sail for my life.  But, to be honest, I just missed it in the flood story.  I must truly be the last person to have finally learned that even with Noah, God was teaching He is the One in control.