Wednesday, July 30, 2014

In the Grip of God

Out of the blue came this perception of being "in the grip of God."  At first I was not sure what kind of image the words created.  The words seem to speak to me of God breaking into the mundane nature of our ordinary circumstances in such a way that ignoring His presence was not possible.  Not only did it speak of the inability of ignoring His presence, but it carried with it a compelling to need to act.  The more I wrestled with what it meant to be "in the grip of God," the more I realized that it was filled with a moment of facing with faith what might well seem to be improbable and impossible.
In my search for Biblical models, I thought of Abraham.  How could a man build an altar and prepare to offer his son if not in the "grip of God?"  And, then there is the story of Jonah.  Surely, the story makes us realize that such a moment confronts us with the choice of obedience or death.  Elijah is still another who knew what it was to be in "the grip of God."  Imagine what it must have been like for him to stand on a mountain and pray into a blue sky for a rain cloud.  Only a man who knew he had no other alternative would dare do such a thing.  In my search for Biblical models, one other came to mind.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, had to be such a person.  In that moment of being visited by an angel with an impossible word, she shows how "in the grip of God" people respond to God's call to embrace the impossible.

To be honest is to confess this word is something about which I am still working.  I have read about the Biblical folks and I have seen some ordinary folks jump and do what they never thought they would and which for them seemed to have no rational reason except the reason of obedience.  It was more like a moment when there was no choice but to act.  Perhaps, it is a more common place experience than it seemed in the beginning.  When God takes hold of us, it may be frightening, but turning back may be so much more frightening that only going forward is an option.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Wall Thing

It was one of those wall things.  Everyone has seen them in gift stores.  Where people used to hang pictures on walls, they now hang a catchy collection of words conveying an inspirational or encouraging message.  What caught my attention in the store was the picture of a singular tree in a field.  Almost immediately I remembered the same wall thing hanging in the place where I live. Under the picture were a number of simple sentence thoughts written by Bonnie L. Mohr.  I confess to not having read them until that day in the store.  The very first sentence struck me powerfully.  It read, "Life is not a race--but indeed a journey."

As you might note from the name of this blog--JourneyNotes--the word "journey" has become an important word for me in the last ten years of my life.  I confess to having lived too much of my life as a race instead of a journey.  When life is lived as a race, nothing is more important than being first, getting ahead, receiving the blue ribbons, and basking in the "atta-boys" of the competitive self-seeking ego.  When life is lived as a race, a lot of important stuff gets missed because the stuff is always encountered or experienced in the twist and turns, the ups and downs of life.  The important stuff is not where the road brings us to a destination, but where it takes us as we move from one juncture of our life to another. 

However, the most difficult thing for this racer to swallow is that to live life as a race is to live a life that is all about me.  Ouch!  Even it was later than it should have been, I am grateful for the way the word "journey" has gotten firmly rooted in my life.  Truly, what is important in life is not found so much in the moment of getting there as it is in the going.  May God continue to grant us the grace needed to be content with the "being" instead of the "doing,"  with the "journeying" instead of the "racing."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


While the United Methodist Church is a denomination with an "altar tradition," it is also true that they could get pulled up, thrown out, and no one would ever miss them.  Altars define and declare holy space, but were it not for Holy Communion, no one would be kneeling at them.  And, sadly enough, expediency has in many places robbed people of that final reason for kneeling in church.  I remember a lot of altars in my past.  I spent a lot of time there growing into my faith and still believe there is great spiritual value in regular visits to kneel before the Almighty.  Altars are meant to be used.  Preachers do the people entrusted to them a great spiritual disservice by not finding ways to invite folks to come and kneel for prayer.
Maybe it is true that folks today have outgrown such a need.  Maybe it is true that we have gotten too sophisticated to actually go up to the front of a filled sanctuary and kneel.  Maybe some folks think it lends itself to a kind of showy spirituality.  Maybe all of this is true.  Maybe today preachers simply do not think there is value in a congregation kneeling before God in such a public arena.  Maybe someone will get offended, or feel that prayer is too personal a matter to do around an altar filled with other squirming sinners.  Maybe this, too, is true.
It is just hard for this old preacher to understand why anyone would not want to use an altar.  It is one of the places I learned to pray.  It is one of the places where by the grace of God serious life changing soul work was done.  It is the only place left in our world where it is permissible to kneel before someone.  Maybe, it is not necessary to kneel before someone, but how about the Someone who is the Almighty God of the creation?   And, just maybe there is value in kneeling.  No, surely there is value in bowing ourselves at an altar before God.  There is no place like it in our culture.  There is no place where we can be encouraged to humble ourselves and look up knowing who we are and who it is to Whom we are kneeling and bowing.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Turning Point

When I go outside to grill some hamburgers, I usually take a Bible with me to do some reading while the burgers are sizzling. So, the other day I was sitting out there reading the early pages of the book of Joshua.  It had been awhile since I had read that old story of the Battle of Jericho.  Preachers have a hard time reading the Bible without seeing sermons.  The more I read, the more sermons I saw which needed preaching.  At this point in life, I recognize that there will not be enough time to preach all the sermons.  But, then, maybe such has been true from the very beginning.
Before the burgers got done, I found myself thinking about the demise of Sunday night worship and Sunday night preaching.  When I started out preaching, most every preacher in these parts could count on preaching Sunday morning and Sunday night.  Being a preacher's kid I did not miss many of them!  When the church lost Sunday night worship, preachers lost an opportunity for preaching.  Sunday night television, the idea that Sunday was a family day, and preachers who acquiesced too easily to change cost the preacher this extra moment for preaching and the church an extra moment for hearing some of the great stories of the Bible being preached.  When the "hour a week" mentality gripped the church and took over, the church and its people were the real losers.
It is not that Sunday night worship can be the salvation of the church.  It will not cure all its ailments and correct all its flaws.  It is more about the road taken by the church and its leaders.  We took the road that led to less instead of more when our culture was needing more instead of less.  We took the road paved with the idea that culture had more to say to the church than the church to the culture.  Our choosing to be like the culture instead of a sacred spiritual community has been a costly one that will not be turned around by glitzy gimmicks designed to increase crowds and raise money.  The turn around point may actually be the moment of embracing the identity that we started forsaking back in the day when we decided it was no longer a good thing for the people of God to gather a second time on Sunday.