Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Disconnect

When the Pentecost lesson from the second chapter of Acts is read on Pentecost Sunday, it always seems that there is this huge disconnect in the room.  The disconnect is between the lesson and the contemporary church.  No matter how many times we read about that day of spiritual power in Jerusalem, we just do not get it.  We read the story, say a collective, "Wow!" and then go back to our talk about growing churches.  When we read the Pentecost story, there is no evidence of any kind of slick promotional campaign designed to draw in a certain part of the demography.  Neither is there any glitz and bells and whistles.  And, unbelievable as it seems, there was not an ordained member of the clergy to be found anywhere on the place.
What we do find is the raw power of God being revealed among those who have gathered according to the directive of His Son.  What drew the great crowd of people was not the sign and logo out front, or the working out of an effective plan to reach the masses, but the power of God.  Who in our day would think that the power of God actually has drawing power?  Reading the second chapter of Acts tells us it really does.  And, then, there was a sermon preached.  Nothing fancy.  No theologian preaching.  A fisherman did the preaching.  But, what he preached about was Jesus.  There was no fancy sermon title, or catchy phrase, or trendy thoughts that tickled the contemporary ear.  He just preached about Jesus.  Who in our day would think that preaching about Jesus has drawing power?
It makes you wonder if we are missing something in the church today.  Or, maybe the issue is not so much what we are missing as what we are substituting.  Or, just maybe our substitutions and our circus shows designed to draw in a crowd only speak to the church's lack of trust that the power of God and the person of Jesus is sufficient.  Or, just maybe it is not just the church's lack of trust in God, but yours and mine.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Acts 8:1... Again

It looks like a big administrative change might be in store for the larger church those of us in this area know as the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.  One of the things upon which the Conference will be voting in its early June meeting is the possibility of reducing its administrative districts from nine to seven or six.  It has been estimated that going to six districts will result in a savings of somewhere around a half million dollars annually.   It is an interesting time.  Economics seems to be driving the local church and the larger church to make decisions that would not have even been considered  a decade or two ago.
While there is nothing wrong with change, it often seems strange that the church has such a time with it.  It this instance it seems that change is being thrust upon the church by the economics of the day instead of a change that is being embraced out of obedience to the mandate of Jesus.  The 8th chapter of the books of Acts describes such a moment in the life of the early church.  One of the last things Jesus said was to go into the world making disciples.  So, what happened?  The church sits in Jerusalem and it is only after a time of severe persecution that the settled church becomes the church scattered into the world.  And, even then, in the beginning, the Apostles seem to do more staying at home letting the Hellenistic Jews do the footwork outside of Judea and Samaria. 
The truth is it took persecution to root the newly established church out of its holding pattern.  Holding out in Jerusalem was not what Jesus had in mind when He gave the Great Commission. (Mt. 28:18)  Maybe this business before the church now is something which should have been on the agenda a long time ago, but it remains hard for institutions to think out of the box.  Who knows?  Just maybe God is in this economic thing like He was the persecution thing.  He does have a track record of using some of the stuff which makes us uncomfortable for His purposes.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Grace After Holy Communion

Grace was given twice this past Sunday.  The first time it came was the moment of the Table Gathering at the Rocky Ford Church.  The second time was about fifteen minutes after I left the church on the way home.  On a four lane highway with a divided median,  I looked down and saw the speedometer reading 65 mph.  Since the posted speed limit was 55 mph, I started slowing down.  The next thing I saw was flashing blue lights behind me.  The usual conversation took place.  He said the radar gun showed 65 mph and I said that I knew I was driving too fast, but it just slipped up on me.  When the sheriff's deputy returned to his car with my driver's license in hand, I knew a speeding ticket and fine was coming.  On his return, he handed me my license and said, "You know that sickening feeling you had when I left with your license.  Just think how much worse you would feel if I walked away now after giving you a $200 fine."  Instead of handing me a ticket, he turned and walked back to his patrol car and I breathed this huge sigh of relief. 
Grace is what I got at the Table.  Grace is also what I got on the side of the road.  With the deputy I revealed myself as the typical sinner.  I was breaking the law.  I knew it.  I could not make it right.  Instead of taking responsibility I blamed some force other than myself by saying, "It slipped up on me."  I was guilty and deserving of the punishment.  What I got was not what I deserved.  I got grace.  All the things I experienced with the deputy, I also experienced at the Table with the Lord.  I knelt a sinner.  I knew the things in my life that made me a sinner.  I could not make it right.  I always want to justify myself by finding someone other than my own self to blame.  I deserve the punishment, but what I have always found around the Table is the undeserved grace of God.
Roadside grace kept me from a $200 speeding ticket.  Table grace kept me from being separated from the presence of God.  Roadside grace I could have lived without receiving.  It would have been painful, but I would have survived.  Not so with Table grace.  Without God's grace, I am forever out of His presence.  Such a place is not where I would ever choose to live.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Boiled Peanuts!

Though moving along in the car, I saw his corner sign which read, "Boiled Peanuts.  $3.50 bag."  I thought, "Wow!"  In a moment I was remembering my boyhood days  of   hawking boiled peanuts on the streets of Waycross, Ga.  But, what I really remembered was that I would make about $3.00 on Saturday selling those dime bags of boiled peanuts that my mother fixed for me.  And, I remembered, too, that she taught me two lessons.  First, she took out the cost of my peanuts to teach me a lesson about the cost of operating a business.  And, secondly, she told me to give 10% in the offering plate on Sunday because that much was a tithe belonging to God.

Before I saw the boiled peanuts being sold on the street corner, I had a conversation with my daughter who was telling me about her son taking his first job outside the home (a pet sitting job) which actually paid him money.  She then went on to tell me about their conversation about God being given 10%.  Wow!  I am not sure where my Mother learned to tithe.  I know she taught me and somewhere along the way our daughter started the discipline and now she is passing the word to her son.  Of course, ours is not the only family where such things are passed on from one generation to another.  It is the way it is supposed to be done.

The Scripture teaches us that things like  spiritual disciplines, Christian values, and personal faith are to be transmitted from one generation to another.  If we are expecting the church or the school to do this for us, we are likely to wake up one day keenly disappointed.  In that great Old Testament passage from Deuteronomy 6 we hear the Word of God saying about the commandments of God, "Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down, and when you rise."   This Word and others like it makes it clear that nothing is more important for the next generation than the word and witness about how to live right with God.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Cover the Waterfront Prayers

Most of us pray prayers that cover the waterfront when it comes to asking God to forgive us for our sins.  Jesus taught us to pray in what we call "The Lord's Prayer" those words, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."   While we may not want to take Jesus at His Word on everything He said, it is fine for most of us to observe such a practice with this Word.  Perhaps, it is simply the way we were taught to pray.  Our coaching parents taught us to pray at the end of the day something like, "God, forgive me for my sins," and most of us are quite content to keep repeating the same word as adults.  It is the waterfront prayer that covers them all.
It is also the prayer which keeps our sins at an arms distance and maybe even farther away.  Imagine how our prayers might be different if we asked God to show us those places where we sinned in the day behind us.  Imagine how our prayers might be different if we started naming those sins and describing those moments in the presence of God.  We might hear ourselves praying, "Lord, forgive me for seeing that homeless guy and thinking he should get a job instead of trying to help," or "Lord, I said some things I wish I had not said in that conversation this morning.  Did You hear it?  Of course, You did."  Or, "Lord, when I cut down on the car horn today at that guy, I was really angry, too angry to be living with You in my heart."
The Scripture makes it clear we can confess our sins and know God's forgiveness.  Being honest about what we feel when we do what is displeasing to God might be uncomfortable for us, but it may also be the kind of confession which not only brings to us the measure of forgiveness needed, but also helps us see the things which are really lurking in our hearts and ready to express themselves all too quickly.  Putting aside the cover the waterfront prayers and being more specific may be more time consuming, but it might also be a way of helping God do some much needed heart work.