Friday, August 31, 2012
Hurricane Isaac has been compared a great deal to Hurricane Katrina. Both happened on the Gulf coast at this time of the year. While Katrina was a more powerful storm, Isaac has brought its own devastating power to bear. I was pastoring the Richmond Hill Church when Katrina came ashore and left such destruction in its path. One of my clearest memories of the aftermath took place when a woman came in my office saying that we needed to do something. Mary Ann was convinced that God had told her to fill up a 53 foot semi truck with needed supplies for the storm area. Within a few days, a truck was parked in the church parking lot and we watched as volunteers took shifts to receive the supplies brought in by members of the community. In less than a week, it was filled and a volunteer was driving it to bring help to those in need.
Stuff like that gets done not because committees are organized to do things, but because people hear the Spirit speaking a word which compels response. For Mary Ann there was no choice but to be obedient. It is how God works in the world. A similar thing happened in the Vidalia Church when another woman showed up saying God had called her to start a soup kitchen as a ministry of the church. Because of Coopie's obedience, the "Amen Kitchen" was born, a feeding ministry which served the community and its children for years.
Before the flood water goes down, God will be speaking to new people about what He wants them to do in response to the needs of people in the wake of Hurricane Isaac. New stories of compassion and faith and obedience are about to be written. People will be moved to do things in ways they never thought possible, not because people can do extraordinary things, but because God can empower people to do extraordinary things. Be sure to keep your ears open in these days. Listen. You may hear a word from God as He sends forth His mission team to offer compassion to those in need.
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Not sure where I saw it, but I have thought about it often. It was like a guide to thankful eating. Long years ago as a boy, I learned to offer table blessings before every meal. The first table blessing I learned is a remembrance of many. "God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food. Amen." Over time I put that simple prayer aside for more adult sounding ones; however, none probably had more of a learning influence than that very brief one. While the theology of the prayer is good, what I really learned from the experience was the discipline of table blessing.
The misplaced article taught a lesson about offering table blessings. First, the articls suggested a moment of stillness before the food on the table. Take a deep breath and think about where you are and what is about to happen. The second suggestion was to think about all those in the food process chain, from grower to preparer, who have enabled the food to be on the table. For those of us immersed in urban living, this may be a difficult thing to seriously do. Thirdly, give a moment's thought to the many who do not have enough to eat. Remember the hungry. Finally, breathe a prayer to God allowing the experience of preparing to pray to guide you.
Since being stopped from my rather rote table rituals by this article, I have re-discovered something sacred about the experience of eating. The food I eat seems to look differently. No longer does it just show up to be gobbled down so I can get on with something important. God is great. And God is good. And I do need to really thank Him for my food.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Offering plates in churches have been around a long time. In Jesus' day there were trumpet like offering receptacles in the Temple area where folks would give their offerings. He stood there one day as an offering watcher and saw some give big gifts for show and a poor woman giving two small copper coins as a declaration that God could be trusted to provide. So, stories about offerings go back a long way, even further back than Jesus. There is even an Old Testament story about one brother killing another over an offering.
Over the years of ministry, I have witnessed a few offering stories. I remember one usher from my first appointment who would stop at the end of each pew and thump the underside of the plate with his thumb before passing it as a way of getting every one's attention. There was another offering moment that took a little extra time while the usher made change per one woman's request. One other offering remembered is the one when the offering was announced and then came the realization that the plates were missing. After a brief and fruitless search, we did it the old fashion way. Each usher was given a hat.
This past Sunday's offering was another unique and memorable one. When the plate came back after the offering was taken, it was empty. It came back exactly like it was sent out. So, what do you do when the offering plate comes back empty? Actually, the question points to a bigger one. What do you do when you expect a plate filled with blessings and it seems empty? What do you do when your dreams get shattered? What do you do when God does not seem to be providing what is expected, or wanted, or even needed? What do you do when the offering plate comes back empty? We did the same thing we would have done had it been full and overflowing. We sang the "Doxology," ...Praise God from whom all blessings flow...
Sunday, August 26, 2012
During the morning's preaching, I told a bit of the story of Samuel anointing David to be King of Israel. The point of the sermon was that God desires for us to be pure of heart. As you remember the story of Samuel you will understand the connection. Samuel goes to the house of Jesse to anoint one of his sons as King. When the oldest shows up, Samuel was ready to anoint him and get back home with the job done, but the Lord spoke saying, "Do not look on his appearance or the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." (I Samuel 16:8). When I got to that point in the story, there was this flash which went across the brain. If the Lord had told Samuel who to choose before he went, all of this sevenfold trial and error thing could have been avoided. He could have just walked in and asked for David. But, Samuel went in obedience to the house of Jesse not really knowing the whole plan. He just took the step he knew about and trusted the Lord to work out the rest.
All of that thought process sorta went on mid sentence. I was tempted to introduce it in the sermon, but knew it really did not relate to the focus of the sermon. So, I left it on the pulpit to pull up another time. Such is what preachers are supposed to do, but there is always a temptation to run after something which takes the listeners somewhere the whole of the sermon is not going. Today I resisted the temptation. I have not always been successful.
Still, it is an interesting thought. Actually, for me it was more like an insight. The leading of the Lord is usually more like Samuel experienced than like I figured would be better. Seldom do we get the whole picture, but we are instead asked or led to take one step in the direction God is seeking to take us. And then, there is another step and another until the plan for our future stands in our past looking as clear as the new light of the morning sun. Such a process should not surprise us. One step people are faith people which is exactly the mode of operation God has chosen for us.
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
While reading the other night, I was introduced to Evagrius of Ponticus. Evagrius lived in the last half of the fourth century and is best known for his identification of the seven deadly sins. Actually, his list included eight deadly thoughts that ruin lives, but under Gregory the Great who lived two hundred years later, the eight were compressed to the seven deadly sins as we know them today. When I came to gluttony, I said to myself, "No problem here." I confess to eating more than I need, but after some rationalizing decided I had not crossed that line in my battle with the bulge.
However, after reading what Richard Foster had to say, I had to do a little more thinking about this deadly sin. In the book, gluttony was defined as, "the insatiable desire to take things in, to consume, and to attempt to satisfy desire through gorging." I was still doing ok until I kept reading and ran into an elaboration of the basic definition which read: "Although associated primarily with food, gluttony can lead to any number of activities that reflect a loss of confidence in God's provision. Today, for example, we often fear loss of job, and the deadly thought of gluttony can take root as compulsive overwork." Suddenly, the smugness was gone.
Compulsive overwork is a real issue for many of us who live in today's culture. We justify the hours as necessary to get ahead, or as a means of taking care of our family. The one place we seldom go as we think about all those hours of work is to the issue of confidence in God's ability to provide needed provision. While God surely does expect us to be diligent in our work, we tend to go to such an extreme that there might be some reason to think that our overworking may be a way of hedging our bets just in case God is not able, or chooses not to provide for us as we think He should.