Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sunday Best

A long time ago when I was a child, folks wore what they called their "Sunday Best" to church.  As I recall, I had my school clothes and my church clothes.  I even had one pair of shoes for everyday wear and a pair of dress shoes for church.  The idea was that the best you had was worn to the house of the Lord on Sunday.  I have noticed today that "Sunday Best" has changed.  While some still wear a shirt and tie, or maybe even a dress to church, so many others wear a new looking pair of jeans and what I call a Sunday T-shirt.  The Sunday T-Shirt usually has the name of the church attended somewhere on it, a scripture verse, or some Christian message. 
Other things have also changed.  In my younger days, 11:00 AM on Sunday was the holy hour for worship.  It could be done at no other time.  Today, most churches have several worship services during the Sunday morning hours and the one offered at 11:00 AM is often not as well attended as the earlier services with contemporary music.  The holy hour has disappeared which is not necessarily a bad thing.  But, it is not just the hours of worship which have changed, but also the styles.  Once every church thought worship could not be offered without an organ and now a must is a guitar and a set of drums.  Indeed, much has changed.
The church has weathered and adapted to a lot of change in the centuries of its existence.  Some like the ones mentioned are really rather superficial and are not going to undermine the core values of the life of the church.  But, not all the changes being pushed toward the church are so superficial.  Some have the potential to threaten both the church's message and its unique place in the world.  The church may be defined and understood in many ways, but its uniqueness has always been in the fact that it has been grounded not in what the society around it declares to be important, but what the Word of God declares to be as unchangeable as eternity itself. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Green Beans and Glory

Green beans came as a bumper crop in the garden this year.   A triangle shaped bamboo trellis about five feet high was established in the raised bed some months ago.  A row of seeds was planted all around and after a wait, there were more green beans than we could eat.  In a world where people do not have enough to eat, it seems sinful to say we ate so many that we grew tired of them, but such is how those seed produced. 
Today, after watching the vines starting to fade, we decided it was time to clean it up and put the green bean remains respectfully and gratefully on the mulch pile.  On hands and knees I started pulling up the plants and unwrapping the vines from the trellis.   I found it amazing that those green bean seeds knew how to use the trellis provided for them.  Tenaciously, they took hold and climbed upward making my task today just slow enough to pay attention.  It gave me pause to be thankful for the abundance of beans.  It caused moments of marveling at the wonder of the creative process.  And, as I looked closer I saw small bugs scurrying and tiny green worms seeking cover.  Both had lived hidden in the foliage to only be seen today when their home was torn from around them.  There was an order midst those green bean vines which can only be described as a divine order.  There with dirt on my hands and knees, a bit of glory broke into the heat of the morning.
I am always amazed at what we can see when we slow down enough to see.  Paying attention to what is in front of us is a chore most of us choose not to tackle most of the time.  There always seems to be something to do later which hinders our view of what is staring us in the face.  Today, God's glory was staring me in the face midst those worn out green bean vines.  I am thankful for a moment of being able to see for I am one of those who is often prone to such hurry that I am unable to see. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Work of the Spirit

Every now and again I get the urge to memorize scripture.  When I was a boy attending the Pierce Chapel Methodist Church, I was encouraged to practice this discipline.  During the Sunday evening worship service, there was a time when children who quoted a memorized verse got a star put by their name on a chart up behind the piano.  I liked getting stars by my name so I came each week with a verse.  As a child I memorized things like the 1st and 23rd Psalm, John 3:16, and the Bible's shortest verse, "Jesus wept." (John 11:35)  Those Bible verses I learned so long ago, I have somehow retained and can still bring to mind without any trouble.
The problem is not what I memorized as a child, but what I try to memorize as an adult.  I get this urge to do memory work, get all excited about it, and actually end up with some passage of scripture that seems like something stored away in my memory bank.  And as long I recite it daily, it stays there, but miss a few days and I start wondering where it went.  I Peter 1:1-9 is a most recent example.  Psalm 46 is another.  Memorized and then gone.
I have been wondering what there is about me that is so different from now and then.  I really do not think it is old age.  I still remember other things.  The truth is I have more desire to carry the Word in my mind and heart than I ever did, but it still seems to slip away.  The Word of God has been the primary directive of my life, but memorizing it has not since childhood been something easily done.  Still, I am going to keep at it.  There have been those times when something I thought was forgotten suddenly surfaced on the front burner of the old gray matter as if it had been brought to mind by the Holy Spirit who knew I needed a particular Word once again. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Man With the Sign

When I first saw him, he pulled his white poster board sign out of his car and tucked it under his arm.  And, thus armed, he started toward the corner.  I figured another "Vote for Me" sign was about to be added to the collection on the edge of the highway.  I suppose I was wrong, but then again, maybe not.  As I drove out of the parking lot and started down the street, I saw him again on the corner with his hand made sign held high above his head.  It was a busy intersection.  As the traffic light changed, cars came at him from a different direction and with each changing of the light, he turned so the writing on his sign could not be missed.
"You choose Jesus Christ or Satan" was handwritten on the sign.  Jesus Christ was written in red as if it was taken directly from one of those red letter Bibles that lift up the sayings of Jesus.  As I drew closer, I noticed him getting a few waves and a honk or two.  I wondered what it was that drove him out there in such a public place doing something which surely made ridicule a possibility.   The only conclusion I could reach was that somewhere in his spirit, he sensed this public act of witness was something God was calling him to do.  And while his act was not something I could see myself doing, one should never say never. 
The truth is we never know exactly what it is that God might call us to do.  And, of course, another truth is that any believer is going to find himself or herself sensing God's call to be about certain things which may well be out of their comfort zone.  It could be holding up a sign at a busy intersection, or serving in a homeless shelter, or going to someone and asking for forgiveness.  When the call to be about something is heard, we then, like the man at the intersection, must decide how important it is  to do God's bidding.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Back to the Classroom

Lately, I have felt that I needed to go back to the classroom where lessons about prayer are being taught.  It has seemed that I have been praying on a one way street, maybe even a dead end street.  Anyone who has ever grown through a time when prayers seemed to go no higher than the ceiling might understand.  In this season of struggle I have been reading James 5:13-18 which is one of my "go to" passages about prayer.  I have always found encouragement and inspiration in those words of James which say, " The prayer of faith will save the sick...pray for one another...the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective." 
As I continue praying in this season of struggle, I wonder.  Maybe I am not righteous.  But, then I know that such has always been true.  If I am tempted to think too highly of myself, I only have to remember Romans 9:10 which tells me "There is no one who is righteous, not even one."  But, I also know my being righteous is not dependent on me, but upon what God has done in my behalf through the death of His Son of the cross.  How grateful I am that God has made a way to look at me and see one He has made righteous instead of one who can never escape the weight of being a sinner.

What really has brought hope to me as I have reflected on the James passage are the words, "Elijah was a human being like us...(a man like me).  Being who I am is all I need to be in order to pray with effectiveness and power.  After all, God created me to be me just as He created you to be you.  And then, there is that Word from James 2:23 which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness..."  God's grace is more than great enough to take this meager faith of mine and transform it into something useful, even powerful and effective.  If God in His grace looks at our faith and reckons it as that which makes us righteous, then continuing to pray through a season of struggle is the only thing which makes sense.