Friday, February 28, 2014

A Different Look

I can remember looking at pictures of my parents when they married and thinking, "How strange and funny they look!"  I think the shoe is now on the other foot.  Seeing me now and looking at pictures of  me "then" must bring much the same response!  So much has changed since I called myself young.  There is more of me.  My hair has gone from black to gray.  My skin looks like it has weathered more than just a few storms and wrinkles abound.  That process of aging that started when I was born seems to be rapidly accelerating in these days.  Anyone who does not like change should not plan to get old!
But, it all set me to wondering.  I wonder about that inner part of me.  I wonder about my soul.  I wonder about what is the essence of my being.  I wonder about that part of me where the Holy Spirit abides.  I wonder how it is looking after all these years.  I have been a follower of Jesus since I was a teenager.  According to what the Scripture says about sanctification, this abiding Spirit has been working in my inner being to shape me into the image of Jesus.  Of course, this has nothing to do with what is physical, but with my heart being shaped after His heart.
So, I wonder how this inner being of mine looks to God.  I have been walking in His way a long time now so the Spirit has had plenty of time to do His heart work.  Of course, I have been a hindrance to that process more times than I want to confess.  Still, I wonder how my soul looks to the One who brought it into being.  As someone has said, "You are not a body with a soul, but a soul with a body."  The most important part is unseen by everyone except God.  He looks not on the outward part of me, but upon the inner being.  I wonder what He is seeing. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A New Read

I am presently in the process of reading Eric Metaxas' book entitled, "Bonhoeffer."   By now everyone else in the world has likely read it since it came in print back in 2010.  I kept seeing it on the bookshelf and the face of this bespectacled man staring at me from its cover, but still I kept on walking by until a few weeks ago.  Of course, I knew about Bonhoeffer.  I read his writing, "The Cost of Discipleship" back in my seminary days and throughout my ministry it was one book I went to many times.  However, this is the first biography I have read about this extraordinary man who lived out faith in a most difficult arena.
There is a one liner quote which I have not been able to lay down.  It is, "Christianity conceals within itself a germ hostile to the church."  It is something many of us come to understand as reality; yet, this writer put it in such precise language as he pointed out the difference between Christianity as a religion, like other religions in many ways, and "following Christ, who demands everything, including our very lives."  In another place this German Christian wrote about the way that Christ's call bids us come and die.  It is only another step to declare that such is also His intent for the church.
Yet, the church as we see it so often expresses itself as an institution centered around a bigger building, a bigger budget, and a bigger membership.  As churches spend their millions on things which seemingly insure their survival, one has to wonder if the call to come and die has really been heard.  The germ which Bonhoeffer wrote about is certainly one that would undermine all our attempts to shout out, "Come, look at me.  Look at what we have done.  Look at what we offer to you and yours."  Actually, all we really have to shout about is Christ, but then, that might not attract as many as millions spent on state of the art facilities designed to draw the masses inside. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Faith and Hope

"Lord, I guess You saw what happened yesterday.  Heard, too.  There I was standing in this line waiting when she came in behind me with that baby wrapped up in a blue blanket.  Could not even see the child.  You surely remember how it went.  I asked about her baby and she said he was three months old.  You heard the conversation.  I asked her if he was her first and she said she had three.  One was ten, the second died when six months old, and the third I could see peeking out from under the blanket.  Lord, I was not expecting what she said and how she said it.  Though a tear was in the corner of her eye, she never lost her smile.  I will not forget how she said, 'God has a plan, God has a plan.'
Lord, I have preached and taught about faith and hope for over forty years.  I figured I knew something about faith and what it meant to hope, but when she spoke, Lord, it was like I knew nothing.   I might have been the one who ought to have known, but in that moment she was the teacher and I was the student.  How does a woman who has lost a child have another?  How does a woman move out of that unspeakable darkness and dare to give birth to another baby?  Lord, she knows more about faith and hope than I have learned in a lifetime. 

I cannot remember when I have stood in the presence of such faith.  Such hope.  Such courage.  I never learned her name.  It was not that kind of moment, but her witness to You, Lord, I will carry in my heart and memory for a long time.  As I think about her witness, I know I need to ask You to forgive me for embracing such a lukewarm faith and thinking I was ok.  Lord, I am far from it.  Forgive me for thinking differently, and, Lord, please be patient and keep working in  my heart until the kind of faith I saw in her is the kind of faith dwelling in my own heart.  Thank You, Lord, for a Word from that young mother with her child.  Thank You.  Amen."

Monday, February 10, 2014

An Overheard Prayer

I heard her before I saw what was happening.  She and another woman were seated in the next booth at a local eatery.  You have probably been where I was.  Her voice was so strong and carried so well that I had to make a conscious decision to tune her out in order to carry on the conversation at our table.  Suddenly, I became aware she was no longer just talking, but praying.  When I looked over, I saw that she had reached across the table joining hands with her eating partner.  Her eyes were closed and she was looking upward as she prayed with a whispered voice which was getting louder and then a little louder and then even more so.  The longer she prayed the more fervent and the more intense the prayer became, making any quiet conversation all but impossible.
Now, I have no problem with people praying in public.  I suppose you could say I have made a living out of it on Sunday morning from the pulpit.  You can add to those worship prayers, several thousand prayers to start and end meetings!  And, I have offered prayers for another in public places such as restaurants or grocery stores.  Sometimes it is simply something that becomes appropriate to do and it is done.  Those who pass by or overhear are either annoyed or they understand.  Of course, there are surely some who are fine with people praying, but feel that it is better done in some setting a bit more out of the way than out there in the market place for anyone to see or  hear.

While most of our praying is done away from overhearing ears, there are always those moments when faithfulness requires praying aloud for someone in the market place.  Jesus prayed midst the mourners at the grave of Lazarus.   He even prayed from the cross.  The disciples learned about praying not just by hearing the teachings, but by watching and hearing the Teacher pray.  The Word does caution us not to pray to be seen and heard by others, but such a judgment is not for anyone of us to pass.  Only the Father to whom the prayer is offered can see and know what is truly in the heart.

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Fear

Forty-four years ago today I was a last quarter senior at Asbury College.  It has been a long time.  The reason today is remembered has to do with what happened on that day.  The campus was covered in snow as we went to the required ten o'clock chapel service in Hughes Auditorium.  What took place was not the usual chapel service we had grown to expect, but the beginning of a revival which caused classes to be canceled for a week and students to travel all over the nation and world witnessing about the way the power of God can change hearts.  God made Himself known in that place in an extraordinary way and it might have been missed completely if the faculty member in charge of the chapel that day had been so married to his plans that he could not step aside to let the Holy Spirit have His way.
For me it was one of those life shaping divine moments which had an impact on my faith and ministry as I moved forward.  One of the lessons learned through reflection on that time is the need to be open to the surprising presence and work of the Spirit.  Sometimes those of us who lead worship are so insistent on following our plans and the prescribed ritual that there is no room for any unplanned breakthroughs by the Spirit.  While I have never been one to throw plans and ritual aside at a whim, there have also been those moments when I was afraid not to do so.  Perhaps, our hesitation to be open to the changes the Spirit wants to initiate in the moment have to do with our lack of expectations.
When God's spiritual leaders and people gather expecting only a repeat of last Sunday's ritual, worship is truly diminished to meaningless form.  It is unfortunate we gather with such low expectations.  It is unfortunate that any sense of things getting out of control, or uncomfortable for us, becomes so frightening that we immediately immerse ourselves more deeply in what we figure to be appropriate for the moment.  The Word says in I Thessalonians 5:19, "Do not quench the Spirit."  Sometimes I fear we do.