Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Rolled Up and Squeezed Out

I ran out of toothpaste about a week ago.  I also kept forgetting to buy another tube.  But, I did not stop brushing.  Instead, I rolled and squeezed that tube, finding out with amazement, that what I was going to throw away still had a lot of that blue stuff inside.  By the time I remembered and purchased the brand new tube of paste, the old one had been rolled and squeezed until there was nothing coming out.  However, before tossing it, I wondered how much paste might be found inside if I cut open the tube and peeled it back to reveal the insides.
Before anyone decides retirement has finally gotten to me, let me continue.  Here is the thing.  If that tube had food inside, I would have thrown it away before the final week of rolling and squeezing. I would have thrown away food.   But, if I was truly hungry, not sure of what is going to be eaten at the next meal, I never would have thrown it away before cutting it open and peeling it back so I could scrape all the food residue off the inside of the container.  Surely, there is a lot of difference in the way those of us in the "throw it away" culture live and those who constantly live in the "scrape the inside clean" culture.  It is hard for me to imagine the world of the hungry, but the ugly, used, squeezed, and rolled up tube of toothpaste spoke to me about the desperation of some people.

No matter how we cut it, to be able to use the internet puts us in the world of the affluent.  There is no way to say we do not have enough when we stand alongside the world's hungry.  And, there is no getting away from the Word from God which says, "How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?"  (I John 3:17)  For those of us who say we belong to Jesus, the question is never, "Do I have enough to give?" but "Why am I keeping so much for myself?"

Monday, October 21, 2013


Where it came from I do not know.  One moment I was here and then I had gone back nearly sixty years to a time when I was a boy running in and around church pews and hearing my Mother calling out to me not to run in church.  Her concern was not about my safety, but about my being disrespectful and irreverent in the house of the Lord.  Certainly, there is nothing inherently wrong with children being children in the sanctuary, but what she was teaching was a lesson about how to treat sacred spaces in this secular world.  Long before I could understand, I learned that there was something special about the sanctuary.  Since it was a place set aside to meet God, it was a place for a reverent spirit. 
It is strange how the mind brings old memories to mind.  And, it is always surprising the way God can move us from a childhood lesson to a powerful spiritual experience.  As I stood there remembering my Mother's teaching, I saw these two tall sycamore trees across the now brown hay field on the edge of the tree line.  I am not the first to see them.  Many generations have watched them stretch toward the sky and sun.  Two red breasted hawks had led my eyes to those trees and as I stood there looking, they were perched in the upper branches.  Suddenly, the field and tree line became a sanctuary and God was meeting me in that morning mist.  A sense of reverence filled the moment and my heart.
Is such not the way we are to live?  Are we not to live with reverence for all that is around us and a part of us each day?  Is not God seeking to meet us in the things deemed so ordinary?  Reverence is not just a response for the sanctuary.  Instead, it speaks of the right response for our daily living.  Each day is a precious gift and is meant to be handled with reverent gratitude.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Trusting the Unseen One

While I was sitting uncomfortably in that Southwestern jet a few days ago at 42,000 feet in the air, it occurred to me that I had not even seen the pilot.  The cockpit door was shut when I entered the plane and so it stayed.  So, there I was trusting someone with my life I had never even seen.  I knew he, or she, had to be there.  The plane did take off.  It was taking me from one place to another.  From time to time the plane would slightly bank to one side as it made a turn.  Someone in the cockpit had to be the one responsible.  And then, to provide some reassurance that someone really was there, a voice came over the speaker telling us to buckle our seat belts, to warn us of some impending turbulence, and to announce our descent and arrival in 22 minutes.  Still, I never saw the pilot.  But, as I sat there lightly in my seat, doing my part to keep it in the air, I decided it was a matter of trusting this pilot I had not seen to get me there.
As all this stuff was flying through my mind, I thought about the One who I really trusted to get me where I was going.  Already I had seen evidence that others around me trusted Him as well.   A seat mate across the aisle sat with hands folded in front of her face as the plane was leaving the ground.  And, another young woman crossed herself as the plane dropped sharply in the turbulent air.  They, too, were expressing trust in the One in whom I was trusting.  The Holy One I trust is not one I have ever seen.  I am convinced He is there because I have seen too many evidences of His activity in directing the course of my life.  My eyes may not have seen Him, but my ears have heard His voice.  And, like  John Bunyan told us in  "Pilgrim"s Progress,"  He is taking us from where we were without Him on a journey that continues to bring us closer and closer to our eternal home.
It makes no sense to figure that someone other than the pilot was in charge of that airplane.  Seeing him was not necessary for me trust him with my life.  It is no different with the heavenly Father.  These mortal eyes have not seen His presence, only signs and evidences of it, but nothing makes more sense than to trust Him to keep me safe as the journey continues toward its destination.

Little Brother

This past week as I was sitting in a Southwestern Airlines jet at 40,000 feet, I thought of "Little Brother".  While I cannot remember exactly how he got his nickname, "Little Brother," I do know there was nothing little about the man.  He was tall and likely got the basketball coach's eye during high school.  The nickname might have started out as a family thing, but by the time I made it to Talbotton to be his pastor, it was the name that everyone used.  He had a birth certificate name, but if it had been used, few would have known it.  Why did this man from the past suddenly come to mind at 40,000 feet?  "Little Brother" had a small airplane which he flew from a grass strip near his house and he gave me my very first airplane ride.  It was unforgettable to see my house and town from the vantage point he provided.
My past is littered with people like "Little Brother."   Doretha baked us a rum fruitcake which had so much rum in it that it was intoxicating just to smell it.  Charlie cooked a turkey for the church supper and forgot to clean out the insides first.  John, an air traffic control guy, sang "Cornerstone" and to this day, I can hear that rich deep voice resonating through the sanctuary.  C.M. wanted the choir to sing "Dixie" after a stirring choir rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."  Mrs. Essie provided us a garden spot and gave up her subscription to "The Wesleyan Christian Advocate" in order to give to a mission fund. 
Of course, my past is no different than anyone's.  All of us have memorable people in it whose lives were lived midst the ordinary.  Yet, these ordinary folks touched our lives in memorable ways and from time to time, remembering, calling their names, and giving thanks to God for them and the many others just like them seems like the only right thing to do.   And, who knows?  Some day after the sun has set on our life, someone may remember some ordinary act of kindness we offered, count it extraordinary, and give thanks to God for us. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Stopping Places

Every good sermon has a stopping place.  Some of those who listen to those of us who preach often say that most sermons have several good stopping places.  What the pew sitters are saying is that we preachers have trouble bringing our sermons to a conclusion.  We tend to just keep going on and on and on and on.   I must be as guilty as the next preacher.  When my children hear me preach, it no longer surprises me to hear one of them say, "Daddy, you came to several good stopping places!"  Of course, what they are also saying is that I went right on through them without even a pause!
These stopping places that are missed are not hard to see.  It is a moment in the midst of the sermon when the message has been nailed with such clarity a blind man can see.  It is that moment when the congregation slips to the edge of the pew and collective declares, "I get it."  It is that moment when the people are ready to respond if only given the opportunity.  Sometimes the right stopping place is not evident in the study where the sermon is prayed out and written.  Sometimes it only becomes apparent in the passion of the preaching.  Too often we preachers are so married to what has been prepared that we lose sight of the fact that the Holy Spirit is at work trying to do the final editing work as we stand there in the pulpit. 
When the Holy Spirit is editing, it is best to leave the scraps on the pulpit instead of plowing ahead to preach the unnecessary anyway.  We pray for the Spirit to be at work during the preparation of preaching as well as in the process of the preaching.  Therefore, changes should not surprise us.  Neither should we be afraid to embrace them.  What we think is a great ending for a sermon may turn out to be anti-climatic if the Spirit has watched us race by the stop sign He has thrown up for us to see and obey.