Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October 31

Most folks look at October 31 on the calendar and think spooks and goblins are on the prowl because it is Halloween.  There are some who have nothing to do with it because it smacks of evil and, then, there are those who say it is  just a night to howl and have some fun.   Of course, the kids see it as a harmless time of loading up on all sorts of sweet treats!  Regardless of where we are in regards to the merits of participation in this nocturnal event, it does raise a question or two about evil let loose in the world.  At least, it does for some folks.
Our culture smiles and laughs at those who take seriously the possibility of evil running loose in the world, but then, some of those same people respond in the same way when it is mentioned that God is roaming the streets of communities and the hearts of people.  For those of us who take the gospels seriously, evil is nothing to pretend into non-existence.  Jesus kept running into those who were so under the influence of the evil one that their lives were distorted and destructive.  He also taught those who followed him to pray for deliverance from evil.  The gospel believer has every reason to believe that evil does exist and is on the prowl in the world around us.
Honesty demands that I admit I have never seen a demon in worship as Jesus encountered one in the synagogue.  Neither have I ever seen any shadowy formless characters with horns, pitchfork, and long tail.  But, I have from time to time run into moments in the life of the church when it seemed that the works of the flesh had taken over in such a way that the fruit of the Spirit seemed non-existent.  So, while I have never seen an evil supernatural being roaming around the corridors of church buildings, there have been those times when I have seen the handiwork of evil being manifested in the hearts of those of us who strolled those holy corridors and worshipped in those holy sanctuaries.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

An Unforgettable Chapel

On a recent trip to North Georgia, we travelled through Young Harris, Ga.  It was not a destination, but it was back in 1966 when my first foray into the adult world took me to Young Harris College.  As one would expect, much has changed.  Back then there were two off campus places for entertainment.  One was the local Tastee Freeze where you could buy a hamburger and play pinball machines. The other "hot-spot" was the nearby motel restaurant where I learned about drinking coffee. There was little else to do expect for going to Cupid Falls or hiking the trail to Double Knobs.  Now, there are many places which vie for student dollars as the town looks typically urban rather than traditionally rural.
The college and campus have undergone many significant changes as well.  Physical expansion has brought new buildings and a campus that is sprawling over the landscape.  When I went as a student, it was a junior college, but recently it has become a four year school with a bright future.  One thing that remains as a constant on this United Methodist college is the Susan B. Harris Chapel.  It is the oldest building on campus, served as the community's Methodist Church for over half a century, and then became not the geographic center of the school, but its heart.  Every evening the bell in the chapel called us to Vespers.  In those days of trying to figure out what faith in Christ meant to me, those student led vesper moments became an important time.
Not every college campus has a chapel as its heart.  As I visited, I wondered if it is still true.  I wondered if the new athletic complex or something like it has taken its place.  I hope not.  The farther out we go from those formative college years, the more we realize the value of the spiritual influences in our lives.  I am grateful Young Harris College and Susan B. offered such to me in those years when that influence was so desperately needed.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Forgotten Word

The Homecoming worship service was over and folks were heading toward the Fellowship Hall for a much anticipated covered dish meal.   On the way some folks stopped to talk.  Some folks were talking about the way the preacher for the day looked different than the one who filled the pulpit in that place over 40 years ago.  "Didn't you wear black rim glasses back then?" asked one.  Another offered, "And your hair was really black as I recall."  Both of those things were more than true and there were other changes which were kindly not noted.  Then to my left a woman started talking, "I remember your visit to Momma in the hospital when she had surgery.  It was a tough time for me personally and I remember what you told me."  She then went on to tell me in a rough verbatim fashion the conversation we had and what it had meant to her through the years.  I remembered her mother in the hospital, but the conversation was indeed a forgotten word.
Life works that way for all of us.  Sometimes we are able to say things to folks in the midst of their darkness that is truly helpful and encouraging.  Sometimes when we wonder about the reason for the going and wonder what actually was accomplished God does something without letting us know that He did it.  We may never find out about, or it may be decades later that we learn that what we thought was filled with the ordinary was a holy moment for someone else.  And, it is also true that all of us carry memories of how someone spoke a word to us at a critical moment and enabled us to make it even though we thought making it was impossible.
God does such surprising stuff.  It should not surprise us when we realize it, but it does, nonetheless. When the ordinary turns into the holy it is never about our sharp minds and quick words, but about what He is doing, sometimes through us, and sometimes despite us.  We can simply be grateful that in His hands we can be more useful than ever we thought to be possible.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Place Called Home

Today I was the Homecoming preacher at the Zoar United Methodist Church.   It, along with a couple of other churches on the Stapleton Charge, was my first appointment.   The Zoar Church has something not too common to churches these days.  A well kept, manicured cemetery wraps around the holy space where people sit in pews each Sunday.  Those who come to worship do so in a place where Mothers, Fathers, husbands, wives, and even children have been laid to rest.  The ground is made sacred not just by the sanctuary, but also by the landscape dotted with stone memorials to family and friends who are gone but not forgotten.
People who worship in the Zoar Church and churches like it never have to make any plans to visit the graves of loved ones.  Every Sunday's trip to the place of worship is a trip to the place where family members are buried.  To some it may sound like a morbid thing, but the reality of it is far different.  Even as worship takes place in the sanctuary, there is a visible reminder of the communion of the saints, the great crowd of witnesses in heavenly places on the outside.  The cemetery reminds those who come that way that death is indeed a reality to be experienced by all, but there is also that reminder that the eternal reward spoken of in scripture is an ever present reality as well.
The church and the cemetery together create a powerful center for the spiritual lives of the community of people who share in a life of faith together.  Large churches are often more like stops on the road for the urban travellers who go from one place to another.  For those small country churches with their church yard burial grounds, the church becomes a center of life in a way not really understood by their urban counterparts.  Those places like Zoar never get out of people's hearts.  They truly do become like home which is what we are looking for as we travel the pathways of this earth.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Oswald Chambers

Oswald Chambers died in 1917 at age 43 of complications from a ruptured appendix.  At the time of his death he was giving spiritual support to wartime soldiers.   Knowing the impact that his ministry has had almost a hundred years after his death is to be caused to think, "If only he had lived longer...He died so young."   Yet, it is hard to imagine how his life and unswerving faith in Christ could have a greater impact than it does through his writings, particularly, the devotional writing, My Utmost for His Highest."
Actually, the devotional book was compiled and edited by his wife, a great woman of faith he called Biddy.  She had an amazing gift as a stenographer and wrote down so many of his lectures and teachings at the Bible College in London and his messages to the soldiers in Egypt.  Had Chambers lived, it is likely we would have missed out on My Utmost for His Highest.  I recently read a biography of Chambers written by David McCasland.  One of the notes that someone wrote on the jacket speaks so well of my thoughts after reading the book.  "For years I have used Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest.  In this biography I see where that depth of input was born and developed."
To this comment, I offer a heartfelt "Amen!"  Throughout the devotional Chambers talks about abandonment of self for Christ, about the cost of following Jesus, and about God's call to absolutely dependent upon Him for every part of life.  To read the book is to see one example after another of how this was fleshed out in this man of extraordinary faith.  Reading it also enables us to see that His remarkable life was like ours, a journey full of failures, start overs, but still one that pursued the call to live a holy life.  Would that there were more people like Oswald Chambers.  Would that we were one of them.