Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sounds of Easter

The morning air is full of sounds.  Maybe it is easier to hear because of the misty clouds lingering upon the heavy morning moisture on the ground.  Sounds.  Reverberating.  Echoing.  Racing along the ground and in the air to ears of those who have ears to hear.  Women sniffling through tears.  Whispered muted voices.  Feet dragging on worn dirt.  Tree branches suddenly moving over shaking earth.  Stones moving and lodging in new resting places.  Bodies collapsing, thudding hard against shaking ground.  Untended fire hissing in smoke.  Tentative birds launching the morning's first song.
The loud demanding voices of women.  Thumping hearts. Spice bag falling to ground.  Gentle voices of angels.  Breath being taken away in surprise.  Running feet breaking the morning stillness.  Hard tortured gasping for air.  Soft murmurs inside the tomb.  Moisture dripping.  Cold air settling.  Hard sobs of grief.  Echoes.

The voices.  The words.  Heavenly angels and resurrected Son.  'He is not here, but has risen."  "Why are you weeping?" "Do not be afraid."  "He has been raised as He said."   "You will see Him."  "Mary."   Indeed, there is much to hear.  There are sounds not yet heard, but waiting to be heard by the seeking heart.  Listen.  Hear.  From a place where only whispers are heard, there is a loud victorious Word being shouted for all the world to hear.  Jesus is risen.  As Mary heard her name on the lips of the resurrected Son, let us listen for ours.  It is a name and a Word we will surely hear if we but still our souls and listen.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Lent XXXXVI....Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday is an interesting day.  Maybe, thought provoking is a better word.  It is the day between Good Friday and Easter, the day between the cross and the empty tomb, the day between what appeared to be defeat and what can only be described as stunning victory.  Traditionally, it has been for the church a day of continued prayer.  It has been a moment of waiting as with the women who waited for Saturday to pass so that they could return to the tomb of Jesus to finish what had been started but left undone on Friday evening. 
It does make for a thought provoking moment of reflection.  The stone was obviously not rolled away until Sunday morning.  We do not think of Jesus being resurrected from the dead until Sunday morning, but if you are God why wait? Of course, there is the matter of scripture and the words of Jesus which spoke of being raised from the dead in the time allotted between Friday evening and Sunday morning.  Still, one cannot help but wonder.  The stone was not rolled away so that Jesus could make an early morning exit.  If being raised from the dead was not an insurmountable problem for God, surely getting Jesus out of the tomb without disturbing the landscape would have been a piece of cake. It sounds like what we have always heard is true.  The stone was not rolled back so that Jesus could enter, but so that we could enter.
Still, is hard not to wonder about what this death of Jesus meant.  Was the creation brought into being through divine creative breath now totally empty of His presence?  Was He no longer a part of it except as a memory of Someone who lived among us?  What was it like when eyes closed in death saw light again?  What was it like when the spirit rushed into a resurrected form to create a new life?  What will it be like for us?  Does that moment when the Spirit rushes into our mortal bodies creating something new in anyway resemble that moment when we are touched by unleashed resurrection power and given what can only be known as eternal life?  Holy Saturday.  A day for pondering.  And waiting for Easter.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Lent XXXXV...Good Friday

Good Friday has always seemed like a hard day for the church.  What makes it hard is not that the Protestant community of faith takes it so seriously, but that it often seems unsure what to do with it.  In many places Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are seen more as Roman Catholic services and are either ignored, or handled in a rather trivial manner.  I remember an ecumenical community Good Friday service offered years ago when a local pastor gets up and says, "I know it is Good Friday, the day Jesus died on the cross, but I am going to preach on resurrection."  And, off he went reading the Easter morning lesson and preaching on the empty tomb. 
Sometimes it seems we have an unhealthly fear of anything to do with the cross.  I say "unhealthy" because it is not spiritually healthy to ignore it.  Our secular world which knows so little of the gospel story shows up in mass on Easter Sunday for the watered down version of the message about resurrection power being unleashed in our world without even knowing about the horrible reality of Jesus dying on the cross on Friday.  How we can celebrate a death we have not contemplated is a difficult matter to comprehend.   There was nothing pretty and clean and nice about what happened to Jesus in those hours before the cross and during the hours He suffered on the cross waiting on death.  It is a picture of humanity at its worst.  It is a picture which speaks of the deep need of humanity.  And, it is a picture which reveals to us the love of God and His deep desire to bring us home to His heart.
Going by the cross is not an optional moment for those who would truly understand why we are gathering on Easter.  Without standing, or kneeling, before the cross, Easter Sunday is just about eggs and new clothes.  But, when we allow ourselves to be immersed in both the horror and the divine love present on Golgotha, we finally get it, and are finally ready to celebrate the greatest Word in all of history.  Christ who died on Friday has been raised from the dead and because He lives, we, too, shall live!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lent XXXXIV.....Maundy Thursday

It was almost twenty-four years ago that I went to her church as pastor.  One of the worship experiences shared in those years was Maundy Thursday.  I was learning how to lead such a service and she and others in the congregation were sharing it for the first time.  Today as we met and talked, she immediately said that it was Maundy Thursday.  From that comment she went on to witness to the value and meaning this single service had been for her through the years of her life. 
It is not hard to figure.  It is a day which has a built-in worship agenda guaranteed to bless those who participate and please Jesus when we share in it.  After all, His command was to "do this in remembrance of me."  It is also a worship experience entered into with intentionality.  On Sunday morning we may show up for a variety for reasons, but those who show us for this annual Table moment do so out of intentionality.  Going to a worship moment on Thursday evening is different than going on Sunday morning.  It is a worship service driven by desire.  Those who show up come not because of habit, but because of a desire to worship on this special day of the year.  As does no other day, it brings to our consciousness what Christ has done for us as He chose to go to the cross for our sakes.  If it is possible to enter into a moment of supreme grace, surely Maundy Thursday brings us to such a place.
There is no week like this week.  And there are  no days like these days of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  Those who pause at the Table and kneel at the cross are much more likely to be able to raise their hands and hearts in praise that Jesus is risen come Easter morning.  Today's moments with Jesus remind us as we go forward that what happened long ago was no sudden surprise, but a work of grace and mercy planned before the beginning of all creation.  Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Sunday was filled with the hollering crowd.  Monday was filled with the sounds of a Temple being turned upside down.  Tuesday was filled with voices of anger.  Wednesday brought quietness into Jesus' world.  Some say He did not even go into the city on this day, but stayed away for a day of much needed solitude.  However, Luke tells us He spent each day in the Temple with the nights being passed at the Mount of Olives.  (21:37-38)   Matthew and Mark both talk of Jesus visiting with Simon the leper at Bethany on Wednesday and report He was anointed with costly oil by an unknown woman.   Jesus spoke of the anointing as His preparation for the burial which was only days away.  The Scripture does not always tell us all we would like to know and certainly this is one such instance. 

But, one thing is clear.  It was a different kind of day.  Away from the noise and clamor of all that was stirring around Him, Jesus had a day that was strangely quiet and uneventful when compared to all that had happened earlier in the week.  It is as if He intentionally drew aside so that all His inner resources would be tuned to the Father's will.  The final part of the journey awaited Him and surely this day in Bethany was a moment for final preparation.

Most of us would do other things when we face the pressures and stresses of life.  Most of us get our personal battle plan ready when we feel threatened by folks who mean to bring no good into our lives.  Instead of being able to listen to the voice of the Father, we can only hear the voices in our head helping us to determine our best option for overcoming.  What Jesus points us to is really the best option for overcoming.  What we see Him embracing as the best option was listening for the sound of the Father's voice and depending on it for direction.  We can do no better when our world seems to be coming apart at the seams and chaos clamors for control.  Listening to the Father.  Depending on the Father.  These are the kind of things which ready us for the whatevers of life.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Tradition teaches us that Tuesday was a tough day for Jesus.  Oh, it was nothing like later days would be, but it was a tough one, nonetheless.  After Sunday's avalanche of popularity, one might have expected things to go differently, but what happened on Sunday only seemed to fuel the fear and anger of those chief priests and scribes who saw Jesus as a threat which could not be tolerated.  If we read John's gospel, we find reason to believe that the restoration of Lazarus from the dead was the final straw for these adversaries of Jesus.  When Jesus came into Jerusalem those pillars of Hebrew power had already decided something permanent had to be done with this upstart Rabbi. 
Tuesday is known as the day of confrontation with these powerful antagonist.  If there was any doubt that the Jesus problem had to be solved immediately, the Temple cleansing on Monday solidified it.  As far as the Hebrew leaders were concerned, His attack on the Temple was not something which could be tolerated.  Too many things thought to be nailed down tightly were coming loose.  As we read the gospels we see Jesus on Tuesday dealing with one question after another.  None really sought His thoughts.  All sought to tangle Him up in some issue which could be turned against Him.  For example, if He responded one way with the coin question, He turned the people against Him.  If He responded the other way, He turned Rome against Him.  Of course, none of the questions posed to Jesus on the day of confrontation had the desired results.  He only revealed the real motives of those who questioned Him.
Still, it was a tough day.  Everywhere He turned there was pressure and the faces of those who wanted to do away with Him.  However, it was not yet Friday.  It was not yet His time.  And as One who was in control, He walked away and out of the city to come another day.  He would die as they desired, but He would be in control.  What they wanted, He was willing to give.  He gave His life not for their purposes, but for the purposes of God.  There is no greater reason to live our lives than fulfilling the purposes of God.  And, to do it as He did....willingly, out of obedience to the Father.

Monday, April 14, 2014


As Lent draws to a close, so does this weekly focus on "the Practice of His Presence."  On these Mondays of the Lenten season the emphasis on this day has been on spending more time in His Presence.  By increasing our time commitment by ten minutes a week, our goal was to be at a point where we could be spending an hour experiencing the presence of God.  Some of us have reached that goal.  Some of us have not quite been able to make our intentions reality.  Hopefully, all of us have come to a place of spending more time in His presence than we were at the beginning of the Lenten season.
In thinking about this focus for the last time, I found myself being drawn toward the 23rd Psalm.  It is such a familiar piece of Scripture.  It represents some of the first scripture memorization for many of us.  It speaks of the longing of our hearts as we move toward a life of more time in the presence of God.  We long to be cared for by our Shepherd.  We long to walk in rich lush green places where are souls can be abundantly nourished.  And we long for the safety of the still waters which provides for us a safe place to have our spiritual thirst not only quenched, but satisfied.  Our hearts long for this kind of intimate relationship of trust with this God we worship.  It is no wonder that we would launch out on an endeavor which offered a promise of bringing us into a more nurtured relationship with God.
Regardless of where we are on this journey of faith and intimacy with God, it a journey worthy of the best that we can do.  And when we have done the best we can do, we can pause with confidence in the knowledge that where we are unable to walk, He will take us.  He can be trusted to take us into that deeper relationship with Him that we each long to experience.  He will not turn away from the longing and seeking heart.  May that heart be in each of us as we continue a life of faith that speaks of practicing His presence until experiencing His presence becomes a reality. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lent XXXX...Palm Sunday

When Dietrich Bonhoeffer made the decision to leave the safety of America during World War II in order to return to his homeland of Germany, he chose a course of action which meant giving up control of his own life.  In this country he was safe.  In Germany he would be in great danger.  He returned home, was imprisoned, and executed in the last days of the war.  When Burleigh Law, a Methodist missionary to what was then known as the Congo, flew his plane over a missionary family and saw them in the hands of bloodthirsty rebels, he chose a course of action which meant giving up control of his own life.  Instead of flying to safety, he chose to land hoping to help those in trouble. When his plane touched the ground, he was shot and died.  When Jesus made the decision to walk into Jerusalem on that day known as Palm Sunday, he chose a course of action which meant giving up control of his own life.  Instead of going where He would be safe, He walked into the stronghold of those who opposed Him and a few days later He was put on a cross to die.
The common denominator in these stories is obedience.  Obedience to God does not take us down a path where there is no risk or danger.  Instead it always takes us down a road of choosing whether or not to give up control of our life for the purposes of God.  This is the time of the year when pastoral appointments are announced in our Annual Conference for the upcoming Conference year which begins in June.   Some will be feeling happy, feeling blessed, and some will be angry, feeling put down again.  Over the years of being appointed to different ministry settings, I confess to both feelings.  What I confess to often forgetting, and, perhaps, some others have as well, is the ordination moment.  In that moment there is the commitment to go where sent and to serve regardless of where put.  It is a moment of obedience talk.  It is a moment of choosing to give up control of one's own life.

Looking back I realize what I could not understand when the Bishop's hands were placed on my head.  It is easy to talk it, but hard to walk it.  It is easy to talk about giving up control, but hard to live it.  Jesus did it when He walked into Jerusalem.  After almost a lifetime I am still working on it.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


While the Word of God can rightly be characterized as living and fresh, our reading of it can often become stale and boring.  There are many reasons that can be offered.  First, so much of the time our time with the Word is in those leftover moments of the day when all our energy has been depleted on other pursuits.  Or, it may be that we tend to graze in the places that are so worn that we hardly have to look at the page to know where the text is taking us.  And, of course, our experience with the Word may be stale and boring because of our expectations.
What do we expect as we open the Word of God?  If it is simply fulfilling some spiritual duty, then we should be content with the mere satisfaction of being able to say, "I read the Bible today."  But, there is something more.  This is no surprising news to us.  We long for something more out of our encounters with the Word of God.  We really do want to experience it as a living, powerful Word that speaks to our hearts in fresh ways.  Such may not be our experience, but it is certainly something which speaks of the deep longing of our inner being.  We do not want it to just be the reading of words.  We want it to be a living encounter with the God who inspired the writing we hold in our hands.
If the way we are reading the Scripture is not taking us to such a place, maybe being open to different ways of encountering the Word.  One thing we might do is to read and have some dialogue with it.  For example, we could ask God, "Lord, why is this verse written as it is?  Why did You say it like You did?  Lord, what is it that You would say to me through this Word?"  Reading with an inquiring spirit is always going to be a good thing.  But, remember.  If we decide to ask God to help us as we read, or if we ask Him for clarity about a particular section, then we should give Him the courtesy of listening while He speaks. 

Friday, April 11, 2014


Temptations come in all kinds of shapes and sizes.   What sorely tries one person is a piece of cake for another.  In the spirit of "Screwtape Letters," it might be said that Satan has no problem with any one of us reading the Scripture as long as we are reading it for the wrong reasons.  Trust me.  As a preacher of some four decades, I know how easy it is to be tempted to read the Word with the wrong motive.  No only do I know how easy it is to do it, I also know how easy it is to justify it.  Most preachers stay immersed in the Word.  It is impossible to preach or lead Bible groups without spending time working with the Word of God.  The problem is that preachers like me are often tempted to use the Bible work necessary for preaching and teaching as a substitute for reading it for personal spiritual growth.
It is a bad trade to make.  But, it is a not just something with which preachers struggle.  Sometimes we read out of duty.  Christians are supposed to read the Bible every day, so we make sure we get in a few verses before turning out the lights.  Reading the Bible out of duty is not exactly the same thing as reading it in order to hear what God is saying to us in the present moment of our life.  We often forget that when we hold the Bible in our hand, we are holding something which has the power to change our life and even the world around us.  Reading it through such a lens is bound to take us to a different place than the place duty takes us. 

Some say it does not matter about the reason.  Better to read the Word than not read it at all.  After all, some Word may penetrate the heart that surprises us.  There is no argument here about such happening.  But, it is also true our motive in reading the Word will somehow shape the expectations we carry with us to it.  And the expectations we take with us to our time of reading the sacred pages can become like prayers upon our lips which God not only hears, but honors with both revelation and epiphany.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


The Scripture is a writing that is God inspired.  It is one of a kind.  Some folks may want to talk about it as just another book, but it is so much more.  Oh, it is history, and family life stories, poetry, prayers, and a powerful church growth resource, but is still always more than just the sum of all these things.  It is a Word which has been passed through the ages.  It is a Word which lives.  As surely as you and I are those in whom creative breath has been breathed, so has this Holy Word been brought into being through the divine breathing into it of the Holy Spirit.
While it never changes, it is always revealing something new within its verses and chapters to those who read it with a pondering and wondering spirit.  We can read the most familiar parts of it again and again and all of sudden find ourselves hearing a Word from God so clear that we cannot help but wonder why we never heard it before.  Yet, these epiphany like moments happen again and again and with such clarity that we know what we are experiencing is more than just divine revelation, but a witness to the living power of the Word as well. 
I have been reading this living Word for a lifetime.  Almost as long as I can remember reading can I remember having a Bible to read.  And more importantly, I can remember a lifetime of reading it.  Long before I had any sense of its power, I was reading it.  Long before I knew the value it would have in my life, it was soaking into my soul little by little.  I still have that first Bible.  I remember spending time with it as a child.  I am grateful for it and the many which have been held in my hands and nurtured me along the way in my spiritual journey.  There is no book like it.  And I am sure that if I live to read another thousand times, there will still be a new Word from God waiting for me when I have finished.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


As we remember the Invitation to Observe a Holy Lent, we remember an invitation to enter into a season of practicing spiritual disciplines.  The last discipline listed in the Invitation is reading and meditating of the Word of God.  The fact that it is listed last certainly does not make it any less important than the ones listed ahead of it.  In fact, it may be said there is no spiritual discipline which is more important.  When we go there, we can always be assured that the reading will put us in a spiritual position where hearing what God is saying to us.  It may happen through the practice of other spiritual disciplines, but to read and meditate on the Word is like sitting in the presence of God waiting for Him to speak to us.
From a preaching professor at Candler School of Theology, I learned a lot about preaching, but I also learned the value of the Word in worship.  Dr. Brokoff always said to read the Word in worship so that if the preaching was a total washout, the people will at least have the opportunity to hear the Word of God for the day. It's importance can hardly be over emphasized in our spiritual journey.  The Scripture tells  us what God has been doing with and in the world.  But, there is even more.  It tells us what He is doing and plans to do.  And, perhaps, the really astounding part of it all is the way the Word of God tells us how we can be partners with God as He does what He desires to do in and with the world around us.  Through the Word we learn what God is doing and we learn what He want us to be doing.

There are other sources for figuring out how we are to live in this world.  But, none of them can compare with this Word which God has spoken through the written Word.   In II Timothy 3:16-17 we read, "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work."   The bottom line is that the Bible we hold in our hands is a Word which comes directly from Him.  It is a written Word full of life because He has breathed life into it.  As those who have been brought into being by Him, it makes no sense to try to live this life without the manual He has provided for us to use.   There is never any reason for us to say that He has not spoken or is not speaking to us.  All we have to do is take this inspired Word in our hands and allow it to find its way to our hearts.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


I know the company line about giving.  I preached it for a lifetime of ministry.  Particularly did I preach it during the fall season when the church is busy preparing for next year's operating budget.  The company line goes something like this;  "Remember your gifts are not given to the church, but to God."  One of these days someone is going take this line seriously and write "God" on the "Pay to the Order" line of the check instead of the name of the church.  Try it and you will surely get a call, maybe even a visit, from the church.

The ugly truth is that there is an institutional beast out there demanding to be fed with our time, resources, and loyalty.  This institutional beast co-exist alongside the Christ-centered spiritual community called into being long, long years ago at Pentecost.  Seeing the demanding beast and the model of the sacrificial servant brings to mind an important Word from Jesus to the church: "No one can serve two masters."  (Matthew 6:24)  The wisdom of our day takes us away from the black and white of this Word of Jesus to a compromising word which tells us that the key is balance; it is learning to live with the necessary tension.  Around these parts we have a word that fits this spirit of necessary compromise.  "Hogwash!"

When we give to God and the instrument of giving is today's church, we can figure that the institutional beast is going to devour the first eight dimes out of every dollar.  Those who think otherwise need only look at that ecclesiastical mandate for operation, the church budget, and see how much of the money spent brings absolutely no benefit to the church on the corner and the people who gather there.  We take too much pride in big budgets, are too obsessed with more buildings, and do too little thinking about how the church can serve those who have nothing to give it.  Maybe there is more to confess and repent during this Lenten season than we thought back at the beginning.

Monday, April 7, 2014


Following the format of "the Practice of His Presence" brings us to a week where our goal is to spend fifty minutes of time each day in our set-apart life with God.  For the majority of us it has not been an easy faith commitment to keep.  As Jesus was tempted in the wilderness to justify the short-cut, so have we been tempted.  But, take heart in one thing.  Satan only contests those things in our life which really matter.  If spending a big chunk of time each day in His presence was easy, we would have started doing it a long time ago.  Surely, the seriousness of the struggle underscores its value. 
If adding ten more minutes to bring us up to a goal of fifty minutes this week is not really where you are, claim the movement forward you have made and start at that point.  Regardless of where you are, this week invites you to be very intentional about adding some moments of engaging God in simple questions and listening for answers.  This will require immersion in a period of quiet inner silence.  If John who is struggling with cancer asks you to pray for him, do not assume you know how to pray.  Forget what seems obvious and ask God, "Lord, how do You want me to pray for John?"  And, then, lay aside everything but a heart bent toward God, embrace the quietness, and trust the divine response heard deep in your inner being.  Do not rush the response.  Listen.  Learn how to distinguish between what you think best and what God is saying.
Of course, this whole prayer experience is based on a hard belief that prayer is dialogue.  We speak.  God listens.  God speaks.  We listen.  At first it seems a bit strange to us.  This is normal.  But, trust the Holy Spirit who dwells and abides in each one of us.  He dwells in us for a reason.  Learn what the reason is and be thankful you are one of those in whom He chooses to dwell.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Lent XXXIII...The Fifth Sunday

Some great Biblical characters have walked across the stage during these Sundays of Lent.  Of course, the first Sunday it was Jesus doing battle with Satan in the wilderness.  And then, even thought Nicodemus wanted no one to see him going to Jesus under the cover of darkness, we watched and witnessed the conversation.  The next week it was in the broiling noon day sun that we saw the woman of Samaria as she went to the well for water and found Jesus waiting there for her.  And last week it was a man who never would have been bothered by the spotlight since he was born blind.  All of them are great stories told by John and this week he continues with the unforgettable story of Lazarus who was dead in the beginning of the story but alive at that end.
What holds these stories together is the issue of belief.  Of course, there is no surprise there.  The gospel of John is often called the Gospel of Belief.  Over and over folks are confronted with the question of Jesus.  How is life lived once He comes in the room?  Nicodemus had to figure it out.  It may have taken awhile, but he ended up saying, "Yes."  The woman at the well came around to believing and spoke of Jesus in such a way as to enable others in her village to believe as well.  Reading the story of the man born blind is both intriguing and sometimes hilarious as various people struggle with what they will do about believing in Jesus.  And, at the end of the story of Lazarus, there is this announcement that many believed.
"To believe, or not believe" is the question of John.  When we read the gospel he wrote through this lens, there can be doubt that as far as he is concerned nothing is more important.   The last two verses of the 20th chapter erase any doubt that his readers might have.  The question is, "To believe, or not believe," was John's question then and now.  What have we decided since Jesus has come into the room?

Saturday, April 5, 2014


The real measure of our giving is not how much we give, but how much we keep for ourselves.  We like it better the other way.  It enables us to have the upper hand on some who have less than do we.  Or, it may enable us to play the game of comparison with those who we know will not be able to give what we are giving.  Tithing is a Biblical standard for giving, but we like to use it as pat on the back for doing what others do not seem to be able to do.  Is not bigger always better?   Is not more worthy of praise and recognition?
The cultural value system may take us in that direction, but Jesus takes us in another.  What one of us cannot remember that story of Jesus watching folks making their gifts in the Temple.  The poor widow only gave two copper coins which was all she had.  Others came and gave large gifts that anyone would have regarded as noteworthy.  Her gift would not feed many hungry people, but those larger gifts could feed a crowd.  Obviously, more is better.  And, perhaps, it is unless it is Jesus doing the watching.  He praised the woman because she gave a gift which expressed her faith in God to provide for tomorrow's needs.  The richer folks gave a lot, but they made sure they had enough left over to take of tomorrow's needs just in case God did not come through as they wanted Him to do.  Their gift was not the sacrificial gift of faith.
So, forget how much is given.  Instead, think about how much is kept.  And, consider why it is really kept instead of given.  There are many reasons we make the giving choices we do.  Maybe we have made some unwise financial decisions in the past as we sought to feed our need for more and better.  Maybe we are afraid.  Maybe we are still trusting in self to provide our needs instead of God.  As we struggle with our answer, there is this woman who gave two copper coins.   Jesus liked what He saw.  What is there to like about what He sees when we give? 

Friday, April 4, 2014


One of the most disturbing Words in the Bible is, "How does God love abide in anyone who has the world's goods, and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuse to help?"  (I John 3:17)  There is not much wiggle room inside these words.  Several conclusions are possibilities.  One, not too many people really love God.  Or, secondly, those who love God do not really see those in need. Or, thirdly, there really are no people in need.  Or, maybe we just choose to skip on down the page to less threatening, less confrontational verses.

"Why did You put that one in there for us, Lord?  Why do You insist on connecting my love for You with caring for my brother in need?  What am I supposed to do, Lord?  I mean really.  What?  I know about those people in Northern Kenya who walk long distances to get drinking water out of a dirty and unhealthy river and I know there is a river of water underneath their feet waiting for someone to drill a well so they can have clean water like I do right out of the ground.  But, what do You want me to do?  And I know about those hungry starving people in some of the distressed parts of this world and the food sitting in warehouses being fought over by military groups.  You know, Lord, why bother to try when that happens at the end where there is such need.  Even closer to home, there are those people living under the bridge in tents and cardboard houses.  I have seen them. I know about them.  But, what is there that I can really do?  Lord, You don't make it easy.  It is tough to know what to do and how to do anything and sometimes I have just given up.  I guess that makes me one of those whose love You question.  Lord, how do I get to a different place?  How can I share my share of the world's goods with some of these whom You surely see as the least and the forgotten?  What do I do, Lord?  Amen."

Perhaps, praying is a place to start.  However, it cannot be a place to stop. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lent XXX

After my father's death, my mother took me and my sister and moved us back to her hometown, Waycross, Georgia.  When we first arrived in her home and my birthplace, we lived in a duplex apartment that was under the shadow of the city water tank and just a block off the railroad track.  Under the circumstances, life seemed good.  In my adult years a friend of mine named Jim asked me where I went to Elementary School when I moved back home.  When I named the school, it was the one he attended as well and he commented with a laugh, "You lived on the poor side of town, too."  The truth was I did not know when I was living there.  My adult view enables me to see that it was a tough time.  I remember a man who was poor sitting on our back door step eating a meal my Mother fixed for him and handed him out the door.  He was surely poor, but I never thought about being poor. 
Though we had very limited means, my Mother still found a way to give a meal to someone in need.  It is not easy for us to actually get involved in meeting the needs of those who are disadvantaged and down on their luck.  We tend to let others do our giving to the  poor.  We do it, but not directly.  We give to church missions to the poor, or to the Salvation Army, or to some local charity, and they help the poor, but we never really see them.  They remain invisible to us.   The poor are indeed with us.  We know it in our heads, but actual contact is a rarity.
The Scripture really does not let us off the hook.  It keeps reminding us to care for the poor and others who have little of the world's goods.  In fact Jesus makes it clear that how we respond to the  needs of those who are hungry and thirsty and sick is no small matter.  If we take the Word seriously we may be able to put their needs out of our mind in the present moment, but there will come a day when He will not give us such an option.  According to the Words of Jesus, a lot hangs in the balance when it comes to our finding some way to share our share of the world's riches with the poor. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


The Invitation to Observe a Holy Lent invites us to enter into a more disciplined life.  It is a journey most of us have started; yet, one where we are constantly reminded that we still have a way to go.  Truly, it is one of those journeys where we must admit that we have not arrived.  The Invitation we heard back around Ash Wednesday called us to look again at things like self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, and the next thing mentioned was almsgiving.  Now, there is a strange word for us.  Almsgiving is not really a word included in our normal vocabulary.  Literally, it means giving that is directed to the poor. 
There is no question that we all do some giving.  Some of us do more than others.  Some do less than we probably should.  When we give we give to God.  At times the church is the channel for that giving.  Or, we may choose to give directly to some mission project that touches people's lives in a distressed part of the world.  But, this inclusion of almsgiving in the Invitation causes us to wonder if we ever really do any.  Do we actually give to the poor, or do we depend on someone else to take some of our offerings and do it for us?

Giving to the poor is not easy for most of us.  The truth is we do not have many of the world's poor in our daily circle of contacts.  Being able to surf the net and use a handful of different communication devices takes out of the circle where the poor live.  And when we see someone who seems to belongs to such a group, we are not usually eager to meet them or get acquainted.  Instead, we are likely to go the other way, or at least get back into a social setting where we are more comfortable.  It is not that we do not have an awareness that the poor move and live around us, or that some people are in desperate circumstances.  We just live in such a way as to keep them out of view.  Embracing such a lifestyle and world view makes almsgiving difficult, if not impossible.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


While practiced very little in this fast food culture, the spiritual discipline of fasting can be a life changer.  What starts out as a decision to discontinue eating for a specific period of time brings us to some startling observations.  As we do without our normal culinary fare,  we quickly come to the realization of how much we have.  And alongside of this insight comes the one which causes us to realize how little we need.  If we are listening to our heart and the Spirit we may hear some inner conversation which goes like this:  "I have so much more than I really need.  What am I to do with this "more than I need" part of my life?  After the fast is over, what will I do with it?  Will my worship of consumerism keep me greedy?  Or, will my compassion make me more giving?"
The real pain of fasting is not the stomach rebelling at the lack of the usual onslaught of food, but the heart rebelling at the lessons being learned.  When we fast, the spiritual lessons have a way of spilling over the edge of the plate.  It is not just the food.  It is everything about life.  To look at any area of our life is to see that we have more than we really need.  It calls into question our giving pattern and it helps us to see how far we are from putting every part of our life at God's disposal.  The old traditional term, "surrender" may sound good in church, but most of us live a long way from surrendering ourselves completely to God.

The woman who threw the few copper coins into the trumpet like offering receptacle received the praise of Jesus because she was giving all.  Those who were giving alongside of her actually were giving more, but they were giving out of their surplus.  She was giving out of what she needed for tomorrow.  They were giving out of what they had leftover after all their wants and needs had been cared for in that day.  To fast is to see the difference.  But, after the fast we are still left with the choice to allow the lessons learned to impact our lifestyle.