Saturday, January 26, 2013


Few would argue that the church could not stand a good dose of revival.  When I started in ministry back in the early 70's, the word was more commonly used than it is today.  My first rural appointments had what some of the old timers still called "protracted meetings," meaning that the revival meeting lasted a bit longer than just a couple of days.  Sunday through Friday was the norm back then and no one really worried about folks showing up for services.  The primary focus of those meetings was to bring non-believers into a believing relationship with Jesus Christ.  Renewing and reviving the faith of some of the faithful who might be cooling off might be part of what was anticipated, but it never was to take the place of bringing people into a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Today's church is more sophisticated.  Its overwhelming sense of busy-ness sometimes raises concern that it may be thinking too highly of itself and not enough of the Christ.  If being busy is the goal then the church is a success; however, if making Jesus the central issue is the goal, then there might be some re-thinking to do.  Today's church is uncomfortable with the word revival, preferring words like renewal or transformation.  Unfortunately, it also seems uncomfortable with calling the non-believing community into a believing relationship with Jesus Christ.  To be too intentional about doing so might be construed as being offensive and insensitive.
What brings all these thoughts to the surface is a reading about revival and prayer from one of those 19th century dead guys, E. M. Bounds.  He seemed to think the church of his day was in great need of revival and that its preachers could make good use of their time by spending all night in prayer seeking such for the church.  Sounds a little crazy to some, especially those who put their eggs in the basket of canned programs for church renewal.  But, the truth is what we are doing does not really seem to be working.  It makes you wonder if preachers and lay folks praying for the revival of the church could take us down a different road.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Furr in His Teeth

A recently received email pointed me to still another dead guy, one I should have included in my listing of 19th century spiritual giants who have influenced my own faith journey.  The original three all came from the same region of the world.  George Muller and Hudson Taylor were English and while Oswald Chambers spent time in England, he was born in Scotland.  This fourth spiritual influence was E. M. Bounds (1835-1917).  Born Edward McKendree Bounds, he was born in Missouri and died in Washington, Georgia where he lived the last 17 years of his life.  Like the other three 19th century dead guys, Bounds had no idea that his ministry would extend beyond his lifetime into another century.
As a young man, Bounds worked as a lawyer.  At age 24 he was called to preach.  He served churches and as a Confederate Army Chaplain was imprisoned twice during the Civil War. His later years were spent teaching and writing about prayer.  His teaching was not about what he had learned from books, but what he had learned on his knees.  His habit was to arise every morning at four o'clock to pray to God because the cares of the world were so heavy upon him.  One of his writings, a compilation of his work entitled E. M. Bounds on Prayer, is over 600 pages long.  I have kept it close for years and the young woman who wrote the email reads it as well, amazed that a writing over a hundred years old touches her the way it does.
Certainly, books about prayer abound.  Most authors of spiritual writings tackle the subject at one time or another.  But, in my spiritual journey, none can take the place of what this 19th century American dead guy wrote.  Every page is immersed in the Word.  Stories of countless prayer giants fill the pages providing powerful inspiration.  But, most of all, it is obvious the author practiced what he preached.  Someone once said, "If you are going to send us someone to teach us how to hunt rabbits, he better have furr in his teeth."  E. M. Bounds had furr in his teeth.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Spiritual Hall of Fame

George Muller, Hudson Taylor, and Oswald Chambers are all men of faith who were born in the 19th century.    Muller is remembered as a man whose ministry provided orphanage homes for homeless children.  He never asked anyone for financial help, but, instead, when there was a need, he prayed asking God to provide.  Always God provided.   Taylor, another Englishman, was called by God to go to China as a missionary and is the man used by God to open that land to the gospel.  When the need became too great, he prayed for missionaries and they came.  Oswald Chambers lived such a short life, but he  modeled what a life looks like when it is abandoned for God.  There is no way to even imagine the number of people who have had their lives changed by his devotional writing, "My Utmost for His Highest."
While some may think old age has caught up with me and I have forgotten that the last blog I wrote was about these three dead guys, such is not really the case.  Instead, as I reflect on the lives of these men of God whose faithful stories are associated with other centuries, I am truly amazed at their stories and I wonder where the Mullers, Taylors, and Chambers are in our day. I doubt any of these three thought their stories would be read and would inspire believers of a later century.  They simply lived in faithful obedience to the God who called them without ever considering future fame.  Surely, there are folks out there now who will be remembered in centuries to come as the great saints of God.  Perhaps, they are invisible to us who share time with them even as those who lived in the 19th century were unaware that great spiritual giants walked among them.
Still, it does cause some wonderings?  Who is serving God in such a way today that future generations will call their names?  Who is writing music today which will still be glorifying God two hundred years from now?  Who is writing books today which will lead men and women into a deeper spiritual life even though hundreds of years separate them from the author?  While it may be impossible for us to answer, I do wonder if anyone has a candidate to nominate for this spiritual hall of fame? 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Three Dead Guys

My sermon this past Sunday morning started off with a Hudson Taylor story.  As I was doing some final preparation before leaving the house, it struck me that three dead 19th century guys are regarded as such spiritual giants.   Of course, Hudson Taylor (1831-1905) was an English missionary to China.  His ministry resulted in over 800 missionaries following him to what was such a strange land.  Taylor was greatly influenced by another 19th century saint, George Muller (1805-1898).  Muller was one who used prayer as the means of creating an orphanage home for thousands of needy children in England.  When something was needed, Muller prayed asking God and it was provided.  Hudson Taylor did much the same when missionaries were needed for China.  And the final member of the trio was Oswald Chambers (1874-1917).   He was a teacher and missionary and best remembered for the devotional guide that has never been out of print, "My Utmost for His Highest."   And, yes, one of the strands of spiritual influence in Chamber's life was Hudson Taylor. 
As I was doing my sermon preparation, I thought about these three mighty men of faith.  I wondered what it was that they had in common.  Of course, the obvious thing is that that all three were giants in prayer.  Reading their biographies is to realize that prayer for them was like breathing is for us.  But, not satisfied with the obvious, I kept wondering, "What made these men so different?  What made them live such extraordinary lives of faith?"  What finally came to me was a simple thing.  Each of them took God at His Word.  Their biographies show them living according to what each knew to be the Word of God. 
Can it really be so simple?  Is the key to extraordinary faith and spiritual power as simple as simply taking God at His Word?  Is it really enough to ask, seek, and knock until the will of God begins to break in upon our lives and into our world?  These three believed it to be so.  These three lived their lives with this basic truth as the foundational stone.  Maybe it really is all we need under our lives as well.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

What I Like To Do

When a conversation is started with a stranger, where it goes is never predictable.  Sometimes it is surprising.  Sometimes it is inspiring.  The one I had today while waiting in line for the Panera clerk to take my order was both surprising and inspiring.  After talking about menu possibilities, I asked about the Baptist church bulletin I saw in his hand.  At that point the conversation shifted in a different direction.  As I shared that I was a retired United Methodist pastor, he said he had often thought about entering the ministry.  When I asked if he had ever done any speaking or preaching, he said "Yes," and then there was a long pause.  "What I really like to do is pray," was what came next.  
When was the last time someone told you that he or she liked to pray? When was the last time you told someone else that you liked to pray?  Most of the time prayer is spoken of as if it is some bear to be wrestled.  Most folks talk about prayer as something that is more of a duty or discipline.  Seldom does anyone speak of it as something to be anticipated, or enjoyed, or liked.  To hear this young man say he liked to pray in the context of ministry was more than refreshing.  It was a word which has stayed with me all day causing me to reflect about my own praying.  It was a word which surely brought great delight to the heart of God.

All of us are alike in that we like for other folks to like us.  We like for other people to enjoy spending time with us.  Today I met a man who told me what he liked most about his walk with God was spending time with God.  It sounds very simple.  More important than presenting an extensive must have list to God is this thing of being in the presence of God.  The guy who was waiting with me in line had it figured out.  I am thankful for my conversation with him.  It was a great reminder and Word from God for a preacher who had just left the pulpit and a sermon on prayer.