Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Edge of the Darkness

A long, long time ago the Apostle Paul, a man who suffered countless troubles and endured untold persecution, sat down and wrote for the ages, " thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."  (Ephesians 5:20)  We read those words with either wonder or skepticism.  Most of us wonder if such is really possible.  How can anyone live through some of the horrible things thrust upon them and still be thankful?  And, if someone appears to be living in such a way, we wonder if it is not just some kind of stoic act. 
What must be understood about the Word of God is that it does not direct us toward a life that is impossible.  It may not be possible if we are depending solely on our own strength and will power, but surely it is something attainable as we learn to live depending on the Holy Spirit.  One thing is certain.  Most of us need some practice in this particular aspect of the gratitude discipline.  As we begin it might be a good thing to look not at the horrible thing visited upon us or someone we love, but to look at the edges.  In other words, do not look directly into the darkness that is surrounding you or your loved one, but look toward the edges.  Maybe this is where being thankful at all times and in everything begins. 
It is on the edges of the darkness that we begin to see the caregivers, the ones who are choosing to stand alongside, the helpers, the ones who will not quit, the ones who give the gift of compassion, and the ones who are praying.  As we start looking at the darkness in such a way, we start seeing the things for which we can with integrity be thankful.  Some sufferers come to a place where they name their darkness and declare their thanksgiving to God for it.  As we see them, we are truly amazed and inspired.  Maybe we are not at that place yet, but as we start looking toward the edges of the darkness we are moving in the direction of an even greater gratitude. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

God's Eternity

These days come,
    like a ticking clock
    constantly moving.
Behind I run,
    never ahead,
    not fast enough.
Wishing for more,
    minutes and hours,
    days and nights.
Always knowing,
    days are fleeting,
    few left ahead.
Much still to do,
    slowly embracing,
    the left undone.
One day soon,
    the last tick ticks,
    leaving what's left.
What I've done,
    remembered briefly,
    soon forgotten.
Here for a moment,
    there forever,
    God's eternity. 

Thursday, December 28, 2017

An Old Friend

A old friend surprised me today with a phone call.  We first related to one another as pastor and church member and then after a move to another church, it became a relationship that spoke of friendship.  For over 40 years now we have stayed connected to one another.  Sometimes that connection was nurtured more than at other times, but always enough that it was sustained.  Today's call came after several months of not hearing from one another.  It was truly one of the best gifts of the Christmas season.  
Sometimes we forget that friendship is such a precious gift.  I will remember those moments on the phone, hearing this voice that has touched my life for decades, and being reminded of his daily prayers in my behalf long after any other gift given during these days.  It is the kind of gift we can all give.  No money is necessary.  The only cost is a little time.  People are hungry to know they are remembered.  People want to know their life is still valued by others.  People want to know the emotional warmth which comes from the loving and caring touch of a friend.

Perhaps, there is still a gift for us to give before the Christmas season is too far in the past.  Think for a moment about those who might feel forgotten.  Think of those who might feel that no one cares for them or even remembers their name.  Think of those who have been called friend in days past, but who have disappeared from view because of our pre-occupation with being busy.  Think for a moment and then make a decision to reach out again to someone who has been a blessing in your life, but hardly feels blessed at all.  As we have been blessed, let us be a blessing in the name of Christ. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Deconsecrated Church

On the third Sunday of June in 1971 I stood and preached from the pulpit of the Stapleton United Methodist Church for the first time.  I would preach from that pulpit every first and third Sunday morning for the next three years.  The Stapleton Church which was a part of a three point circuit was the first one to which I went as one sent by a Bishop.  I was green as green can be.    I was taking classes on preaching in seminary and learning how to preach from that first pulpit at Stapleton.  It was also where I started writing, doing a weekly religious column for the county newspaper.

So, I was saddened a few weeks ago when I heard the Stapleton Church was closing.  The last service was December 4.  It was a moment for formally disbanding the congregation and deconsecrating the building and the grounds so that it could be used for other purposes.  Deconsecrating what has throughout its history been sacred has always been a problem for me.  Can such a thing be done with words and ritual?  Can what has been regarded as holy for over a hundred years suddenly become "unholy?'  The whole business is just unsettling and uncomfortable to think about.

On those grounds and in that building people lives were changed.  How many prayers were prayed on bended knee around its altar?  How many times was the Holy Meal offered and received?  How many times did the baptismal water stir announcing the birth of a new believer?  And what about all those marriages consecrated and funerals of the saints?  In the beginning there was likely a moment of setting the place apart for holy purposes, but that setting apart was made even stronger as one after another passed that way for significant spiritual moments in their lives.  Maybe the record says the Stapleton Church is no longer a holy place, but such is not what I will see whenever I pass that way again.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Another Christmas Past

We call the night before Christmas Day, Christmas Eve.  I am not sure what to call the night that actually belongs to Christmas Day.  Perhaps, the appropriate name for the moment is Christmas Night.  If such is true, then Christmas Night has come and, thus, this Christmas Day belongs to the days known as Christmas Past.  Around here it has been a quiet day.  Small children waking before the sun are memories.  As the years have passed since those days, the Christmas rush has become noticeably slower.  Such is surely true for this day.

While it has been a day filled with a kind of calmness, it has also been one of peace and joy.  Of course, to say "peace and joy" in this season seems almost like saying the expected thing instead of something that has real meaning.  It has been a Christmas Day with time enough to spend portions of it reflecting on how life has been made different because of this Jesus whose coming for us earthly dwellers is celebrated today.  To think about a life without Christ is an impossibility.  While I have not always been the faithful follower I set out to be, He has always been the faithful Lord He promised to be back even before my beginning with Him.

Today I am grateful for this Jesus who directed my future when I was too young to realize how it was happening and who has brought me safely to a place in the journey of faith that I never could have imagined arriving when I started as a believer in Him.  The most important decision anyone of us makes in our life is the one we make concerning this Jesus who was born among us long ago in Bethlehem.  When I decided He was indeed Savior, I made a choice that was blessed by God with a lifetime of grace and mercy.  Those divine gifts given to this poor sinner have made all the difference.

The Vulnerable Word

"Lord Christ, we adore You as the infant Christ.  Teach us how to tend to You in Your self-imposed vulnerability with us..."   The prayer came this morning as I read it from a devotional guide entitled, "Common Prayer."  As I moved from the prayer, my mind went to John 1:14 which reads, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us."  While it may not always be our first thought, humanity is vulnerable.  Oh, we think of ourselves when we are young as invincible.  As those middle age years start attacking us, we respond with exercise programs which we tell ourselves will keep away all those physical limitations everyone says are inevitable.  And even, as we grow past being old, death is thought of as something that happens to someone else.
The truth is that we are all vulnerable.  Very vulnerable.  As Jesus was vulnerable.  Where  in our understanding of human existence is there a clearer picture of vulnerability than birth.  Jesus was born helpless to fend for Himself.  Without loving and nurturing parents, His life would never have been counted in years.  He was born completely dependent on another.  He came into this world naked and empty handed and helpless.  Just like every one of us.  While it might be said that He was dependent on a parent's love, it might more appropriately be said that He was dependent on mercy.
And if we are vulnerable at birth, how much more vulnerable will we be in our death.  At that point we will once again experience a living that is beyond our control.  In those final days or moments, we will once again experience a vulnerability that makes us dependent and helpless even as was Jesus on the cross.  And while vulnerability may seem like such a hard and difficult part of life, as it is experienced those who love us are given the opportunity to give gifts of care and nurture and love and compassion which have the potential to forever change their lives.  Such is the gift we bring to our own vulnerability.

Christmas 2017

The time is full
   the hour is come.
   For a moment
   all the world
   stops to speak
   and talk about
Maybe the time
    is still to come.
    For it we hope,
    our hearts long,
    and we pray
    to come soon,

But, Christ is come,
    and still to come.
    The gift of joy
    and love now
    is fully here,
    Filling us with

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Shepherd's Rock

"Now, my boy, it was a lot like this night.  Really dark.  No stars.  Couldn't see your hand.  The sheep had settled down for the night and we were sitting around the fire next to Shepherd's Rock.  Just like now.  Your Uncle Benjamin had just started one of his stories when all of a sudden he just stopped and pointed over my shoulder into the sky.  It is like I have told your father many times, my son, I had never seen an angel, but I knew in that moment I was looking at one.  We all fell face down in the dirt scared to death.  He told us not to be afraid and to go to Bethlehem.  Hardly had he quit speaking when the whole sky was full of singing angels.  What a sight!
And, then, as quick as they came, they were gone.  Pitch black again.  No light but the fire.  Everything was just like it was before the angels except us.  I don't know who said it, but someone said, "Let's go to Bethlehem."  And so we did.  Now don't you ever do what we did.  You don't leave your sheep out here without someone to watch after them, but we did.  We had to go.  The angel told us a baby had been born who was Messiah.  We had to go.  We had to see.
We found him.  It was not like we expected.  When we found Him, he was in a hay filled animal trough.  His Mother was no older than your cousin Sarah.  She and her husband did not seem surprised when we told them about the angel.  They just looked at each other and smiled as if people see angels every day.  When we went back into the darkness, we knew the angel who had appeared to us had it right.  The baby they called Jesus really was the Messiah.  We knew it then because everything was just like the angel said it would be and we know it now because the One born way back then hung on a cross till he died and then rose from the grave.  I saw that happen, too.  I know Jesus is our Savior.  I want you to know it, too."

Saturday, December 23, 2017


I believe that a lot of our living stuff gets sorted out in our dreams.  Certainly, our dreams can be a bit wild, particularly if have watched some thriller of a movie before going to bed.  But, laying those kind of dreams aside, our dreams can help us as we figure out some of the conflicting things about our life.  I am not suggesting that we can become interpreters of dreams, although some people profess to having such a gift, but that we can learn how to listen to what our dreams are saying to us.  When we are dreaming, our sub-conscious gets an opportunity to usurp the rule of our conscious thinking and, inevitably, such can be an enlightening experience.
Joseph, the guy who stands in the shadows of the Mary narrative is one of those who obviously learned to listen to his dream life.  He was not expecting his wife-to-be to sit him down one day and say, "Joseph, I am going to have a baby."  When she did he knew that her child was not his child.  For him that was fact.  He was left with several choices.  One of those would have been to end the marriage arrangement before the wedding leaving her to explain her own situation.  He could have just walked away leaving her to deal with the community gossip.  Or, he could go ahead with their plans.  The thing she told him about the Holy Spirit conceiving a child within her was a bit much to believe.  It would be for any of us. 
Not knowing what to do, Joseph went to sleep.  As he slept, he dreamed. In his dream an angel appeared and in that appearance, he came to know the right thing.  Now, knowing the right thing does not always mean it gets done.  This we know as well, but Joseph dared to follow what he was hearing when he listened to the dream that overcame his conscious mind which was directing him to take the common sense, course of the least resistance, route.  It can happen that way for us, too,  but first we must learn to listen and then dare to live with the faith that enables us to follow what we hear. 

Friday, December 22, 2017


Wherever she walked,
   whispering went,
   like a shadow,
   following her.
No one knew
   what she knew,
   still the talk,
   filled the air.

Knife cutting,
   hurtful words,
   "sinner and slut,"
   "bastard child."
As if not there,
   they spoke,
   uncaring folks,

No words spoken,
  nothing from her,
  no hateful stares,
  no angry refute.
What she knew,
  none would know,
  until the time,
  was fully come.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Divine Engineer

If you are one of those who is looking for a sign along the way which reads, "God said, 'Go straight ahead,' " you will likely live your life in disappointment.   The closest I have come to such a sign was when I saw long years ago an arrow sign pointing toward a cemetery which read, "Body Shop."  Actually, it was pointing drivers down the dirt road beside the cemetery, but it did seem otherwise at first glance.  The point is this:  If looking for divine guidance, don't look for roadside billboards or planes writing messages in the sky.
Be more like Joseph and Mary.  God needed Joseph and Mary to be in Bethlehem so that the birth of their son, Jesus, would be in accordance with the Scripture.  So, He timed the birth event with a government census requiring Joseph who lived in Nazareth to go to Bethlehem for counting.  In the present moment of that day, no one really saw the bigger picture except for God, the Divine Engineer.  And, then there came that day when it was no longer safe for Jesus, the infant child, to be in the land of His birth.  Herod, the ruler, had murderous intentions so in a dream Joseph was warned and told to go to Egypt.  However, prior to the trip some men from the East brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh which could be used as barter for the trip and to sustain life in a refugee camp.  Once again, we see the hand of the Divine Engineer.
Therefore, do not despair if there are no signs to read.  It does not mean that our life is not being moved and directed by the Divine Engineer who is constantly working out the plans He has set for our life.  We may see glimpses of His leading as we look behind us.  It is easier to see His hand as we look in the direction of the past.  To see it in the present and the future often requires a faith we have not yet attained, but are moving toward.  Never accept the fact that life is about mere coincidence.  It is about God.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Job Descripition

So, what in the world do angels do?  I have often wondered what an angel does that cannot be accomplished by God at work through the Holy Spirit?  Maybe that is just my issue and it concerns no one else.  Of course as is often said in these parts, "there is more than one way to skin a cat."  Just maybe God has many ways of getting His stuff done.  Angels may just be another tool that God has to use to accomplish His work in our lives.
As I ask myself, "What in the world do angels do?" I find myself going to a job description offered by the angel Gabriel as he was moving about during those busy days of announcing that God was about to do something new in the world.  When he introduced himself to Zechariah, the soon-to-be father of John the Baptist, he said, "I am Gabriel.  I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news."  (Luke 1:19)  The first thing heard in those words is that angels are individuals who are known by God.  Furthermore, an angel has a unique and very personal relationship with God in the heavenly place.  They are sent from heaven into the earthly realm to do the bidding of God and to speak for Him.  And finally, as we hear what Gabriel says, we come to the conclusion that their coming is a good thing.

It is no wonder that Gabriel told Zechariah and Mary that they need not be afraid.  While being in the presence of an angel may have been a startling and unexpected event, there was no reason for either of them to be afraid. Angels are interested in the good of those to whom they are sent.  What they impart as a part of their service and ministry is assistance in bringing the plan of God to fruition in our lives.  Obviously, they do not come to call attention to themselves, but to what God is seeking to do in our midst. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A New Thing

It is interesting that we do not stay the same.  Though most of us seek to avoid change like we would a rattlesnake, it constantly shows up always taking us from where we were to where we are.  Fortunately, a part of that change often involves a greater tolerance, or understanding of others and a spirit that is not quite so judgmental.  Not even our belief system, or our theology, is exempt from the inevitability of change.  In earlier years I had very little use for angels and any writings about them and now I find myself both interested and intrigued. 
Is it not interesting how we often discredit certain things about our faith simply because we have not experienced it?  For example, when we have not seen or experienced a healing which can only be explained as an act of God, we are likely to be one who does not believe in divine healing.  We become one of those who takes such a possibility out of the hands of God and puts it solely in the hands of doctors.  More recently I find myself wondering if I have not done a similar thing over the years in terms of being open to the unseen presence of angels and their ministries in the name of God.
Certainly, the Scripture we read during these Christmas days presents a picture of angels all over the stage of human experience.  And, then I think, how many times I have I sung songs like "Hark, the Heralds Angels Sing."   Was I singing something I did not really think was inside the realm of reality?  While I still have my questions about these heavenly representatives of God, it seems that it is impossible to ignore them, or dismiss them if I am truly going to take the Word of God seriously.  Maybe there is something more important here than what I think.  Maybe what the Word of God is saying is actually more important.  Wow!  There is an idea!

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Tickle Prayer

In recent years I have discovered the devotional work of Phyllis Tickle who writes from the Episcopalian tradition.  One of the prayers she repeats again and again in her cycle of praying is one I often hear myself quietly praying as I lay waiting on sleep to come at night.  "Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night and grant Your angels charge over those who sleep.  Tend the sick, Lord Christ, give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous, and all for Your love's sake.  Amen."  For this novice in the disciplines of prayer, being guided by her in this prayer has been a new kind of spiritual experience for me.
For some reason, considering the presence or the ministry of angels has never really been something I have done through my faith journey.  And, here I am now, almost toward the end, praying that angels would watch over me and those I love while we sleep.  It has become a prayer which comes from such a deep place in my spirit that I am often surprised at the way the words affect me.  The prayer creates a mental image which goes beyond my thinking to something which settles in my heart.
I must confess to not understanding as much as some about angels and their work for God.  But, I know, too, understanding is not a requirement for receiving blessings of grace in my life.  In the Word I read about these ministering spirits sent by God to interact in the affairs of people like you and me.  For God to choose to do such a thing is certainly a gift of grace.  Put me down as one who grows more and more dependent on grace as I walk a little further in faith with God.  And, if angels are watching over me and those I love while sleep overcomes us, I am surely grateful for this assurance of the unexplainable grace of God. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017


The deeper we get into the Advent season and the closer we get to Christmas, the more likely it is that angels will begin appearing on the pages of the story.  Of course, as any reader of the Scripture knows, angels do have a way of showing up.  One of my favorite angel appearances is found in the Old Testament book of Daniel.  There are many from which to choose.  They seem to have been hanging out with the disciples when Jesus ascended into heaven and in another place an angel engineered a jail break (Acts 12).
Of course, angel activity might have been at its zenith around the time of the birth of Jesus.   Both Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, were visited by an angel announcing the birth of sons.  Joseph discovered one invading his dream life.  The shepherds in the field on the night of the birth of Jesus were told to go to Bethlehem by angels.  And as pages of the Scripture unfold with the story of the work of God, it seems that angel appearances are rather commonplace.
While some of us may think of someone in angelic terms, few of us talk about seeing angels in our midst.  Still, we wonder.  Sometimes we wonder if the rooms of the dying are not filled with watching angels seen only by those whose eyes are beginning to see glimpses of eternity.  Perhaps, there are times such as these when the veil between this world and the world waiting for us is so thin that even some of the more spiritually sensitive souls see them alongside those who are more there than here.  Who is to say?  All we can say for sure is that these heavenly spirits have often done the bidding of God and still remain ready to go in His name.  Some of us may only see them in the manger scenes so frequently portrayed in these days, but who knows for sure who is watching over us and who it is among us that has eyes to see.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Healing Waters

Running now,
    toward the water.
    Feet splashing
    in the shallows.
Knee deep now,
    almost beside him.
    The one waiting,
     the Baptizer.

Eyes that see,
     sin stained souls.
     No hiding,
     scars in the heart.
Hands reaching,
     mine grabbing.
     Now or never.

Push me down,
     way down deep.
     Too many sins
     for the shallows.
Hold me down,
     not for a moment.
     Keep me under
     Till its done.

Friday, December 15, 2017

What's That, Lord?

"What's that, Lord?.....Could You say that again?  Not sure I got it....Ok, You want to know what I am going to do about what I read a few days ago.  I guess You are talking about that conversation John the Baptist had with some of those who were out to be baptized.....Yes, I remember.  They asked John what they should do and he said, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none..."...What's that, Lord?...You want to know what I am going to do about what I read....Well, I underlined it so I can go back and read it again sometime. 
What's that, Lord?...You don't see what is so difficult to understand....Well, no it's not.  I get it.  I am supposed to share what I have with those who don't have anything.....Now wait a minute.  You shouldn't be asking me.  Don't You think it is a kinda personal?...You don't?...I didn't figure You would.  Well, I'll tell you.  I figured I had three or four coats, but just to be sure, I went to the closet and counted....What's that, Lord?...You want to know how many.  You want me to honest....Well, ok, I counted and I was wrong.  I have seven coats, but most of them, Lord, are really old.  The oldest is almost twenty years old and the newest I bought about seven years ago.  So, I got seven, Lord. But, it is not what it seems.
What's that?...You want to know what I am going to do with seven coats when some people have none....Well, You know, Lord, not a one of them is like new.  I don't just go and buy a new coat every year....What's that, Lord?.....What do You want me to do?  Give half of them away, or maybe you want me to only keep one.  Which is it, Lord?...What's that, Lord?...You want me to decide what I am going to do.  It is up to me.  Tell you what, Lord.  You tell me what to do and I will do it when this cold snap is past.  How does that sound, Lord?...Lord?....Lord?...Hey, Lord, You still listening? 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Shadow Dweller

John the Baptist is a larger than life character who stands on the stage of the New Testament story.  When Mary was visited by an angel who announced what God was about to do through her, she was told that John's mother, Elizabeth, was pregnant in her old age.  When Mary went to see Elizabeth, it was not just a social visit, but a visit which gave confirmation of what God was doing in and through her.  The word says that a not-yet-born John leaped for joy when the pregnant Mary stood before her cousin Elizabeth.  The two were linked  together in a powerful way by God even before either breathed this earth's air.
Though the older of the two, John was the lesser.  Like Jesus he disappears from the pages of the story until his 30th year.   Like Jesus he suddenly appears.  How long he had been a wilderness dweller, no one knows,  All that can be said is that the Spirit moved these two men toward each other at a time ordained by God.  It was not chance that brought them together as adults, but the divine plan which linked them to one another.  John the Baptist was the one who first pointed people to look at Jesus.  He spoke of Him as the Lamb of God.  He encouraged his own disciples to go after Jesus.  Like the Holy Spirit, he did not seek to call attention to himself, but to Jesus.  He was a true servant and shadow dweller.

His life is a reminder to us to live so that people are pointed toward Jesus.  We often live so that those around us are made aware of our individual importance, how much we are needed, or what we have done.  John points us to a higher purpose.  He points us toward a life of enabling people to see Jesus.  When we hear the Baptizer's  message to repent and begin to consider what it means, we soon come to see ourselves as those who need to repent of taking ourselves too seriously and regarding ourselves too highly.  Going from center stage to the shadows is a hard way.  "Father God, keep me from choosing the easy road.  Amen."

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Serious Repentance

Serious repentance does not just ask the "what" question.  It insists on asking the "why" question.  Real repentance is not content with naming the sin although it is important to call our sin by its name.  Otherwise, we are likely to regard our sin as something less than it is.  When we are serious about repentance we go beyond naming the sin to asking why we allow the sin to have a place in our life.  We ask "What is there about me that enables the sin I confess?" 
If repentance really takes it has to go further than acknowledging the sin itself to looking inward at the core values which direct our outward behavior.  Thus, repentance truly is a matter of the heart.  If we are constantly judging others, we need to ask ourselves why it is necessary for us to verbally destroy people?  Is it a way of letting others know we are better than those who have fallen into chaos?  If we are stingy and greedy, it is important to ask why we cannot respond to human need with generosity?  Is it because we fear there will not be enough for our own needs?  Do we not trust God to provide?  What are the core values which direct our outward behavior and do those core values reflect an attitude of trust and confidence in God?
Repentance is serious business for any believer in Jesus.  It is not something we do once at the moment when we accept Christ into our lives and begin the Christian journey.  The deeper we go in this walk with Christ, the more we get in touch with the inner part of us which always seems to demand attention and care even when it puts us in opposition to the Christ we are following.  Serious repentance is not content with knowing that such happens, but persists in understanding why.  Only when we understand "why" does the possibility of turning a different way become an option. "Lord, help me to know my heart.  Amen."

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Misunderstood Word

When John the Baptist started preaching, his message was a simple one.  "Repent!"  The same can be said of Jesus.  His first recorded sermon called those who listened to repent as well.  It would seem that with such an example, preachers would get the idea that being cute with words is not nearly as important as saying what needs to be said with simple understandable language.  I have often remembered one of the lessons taught by my preaching professor at Candler School of Theology.  He told us to preach as if we were preaching to sixth graders.  Now, he was not saying anything negative about the congregation's ability to understand, he was cautioning us would-be-preacher about getting carried away with our own eloquence.
There was nothing eloquent about the preaching of John the Baptist.  He spoke about the necessity of looking at self and God in a different way since God was about to do a new thing through His Son, Jesus.  Repentance was the word he used to speak of this change.  When he used it, he was not speaking about some outward lifestyle change such as ceasing to use profanity, or stopping some bad habit, but instead, he was calling those who listened to a heart change.  A heart change has to do with motivation.  It does not have to do with the outward expression of what is in the heart, but the inner working of the heart which cause the outward behavior.

It is not a common thing anymore to hear preaching that is repentance oriented.  To preach about repentance means taking sin seriously which is not something done today.  The sinful heart is not seen as something to be crucified, but as something to be tolerated.  People are not so interested in doing away with the sin in their lives as they are learning to live with it.   These are not the responses John the Baptist sought as he called them to come into the river for  baptism of repentance. "Father God, keep me away from being content with the easy to live with response.  Amen."

Monday, December 11, 2017

An Unexpected Moment

Baptism of the Lord Sunday which shows up on the Christian calendar in early January was always one of my favorite Sundays for preaching.  I would preach on baptism and life in Christ, but before the sermon I would announce that at the end of the sermon there would be an invitation for anyone not yet baptized to come forward to profess faith in Christ and to be baptized.  Rare were the Sundays when someone did not surprise themselves by coming forward in response to the invitation.  It was an exciting moment of worship as I waited at the end of the sermon to see who the Holy Spirit was going to move to profess faith in Christ and to be touched by baptismal waters. 
It may have been true that no one came to worship on one of those Sundays expecting to be baptized, but it was also true that I learned to be surprised if it did not happen.  Those folks who showed up at the Jordan River to hear John the Baptist preaching probably did not go expecting to be baptized.  It is not likely that they woke up one day and said, "Hey, let's go down to the river today and be baptized by the wild eyed preacher!"  Most likely they went with more curiosity than desire for God, but God was about surprising stuff in those days and many left with the river water still wet upon them. 
Advent is a season unlike the other seasons of the Christian year.  We find ourselves surprised that John the Baptist, that old rough looking character from the wilderness, gets the spotlight for so long when we really want to see Jesus, particularly the baby version of Him.  John was announcing that new things were happening.  Baptism was a sign that something new was being offered by God as baptism was not something needed by a practicing Jew.  As we consider this appearance of John on the Advent stage, we can only wonder what surprising thing God desires to be about in our lives.  "Lord, open my eyes and heart to the new things of Your kingdom.  Amen." 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

An Old Friend

An old friend, (well, we have been friends a long time) really introduced me to John the Baptist.  It was not exactly one of those, "Bill, this is John.  John this is Bill" moments, but an introduction, nonetheless. Russ and I shared together week after week with some other clergy guys in a weekly preaching group.  I was no stranger to this baptizer who always shows up in the early days of Advent when everyone is looking for baby Jesus, but Russ opened my eyes to see this man who readied the way for Jesus in a new way. 
John the Baptist would not be the kind of guy a father would want his daughter to bring home with the announcement, "Dad, this is the one."  As my friend often pointed out, no one would John to show up in their church.  He was a wild eyed Bible thumping guy who dared to call those of the religious establishment a bunch of vipers.  No wonder he won no popularity contests.  He lived out in the wilderness around the Jordan River, had the smell of locust on his breath, and his beard stayed sticky with honey.  He wore no designer clothes, only clothing made from camel.  Most likely folks could smell John long before they saw him.
But, he is an important character in the story of Jesus as well as in the Advent season.  His voice was and continues to be like a trumpet announcing that things are getting ready to be more different than they have ever been.  He points to Jesus as the One who is going to make it happen.  John made no attempt to build up a large following as today's preacher's do.  His only concern was that those who came to listen to him were pointed toward Jesus.  Today's preachers should take this page out of John the Baptist's book on how to do ministry.   "Lord, make me ready for whatever it is that You want to do new in my life.  Amen."

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Come, Lord

Again, I'm waiting, Lord,
   not for some epiphany,
   or extraordinary thing.
     Just waiting,
     alone now,
     but hopeful,
Soon, Lord come.

They say, "Look up, way up,"
   as He left, He returns,
   ascending and descending.
     Watching now,
     eyes tired,
     still searching.
Your coming, Lord.

Praying, working, serving,
   no idle hands or heart,
   busy and attentive.
Your Kingdom, Come.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Be Attentive

I will confess at the beginning that I have this thing about people who live with their eyes on the one hand that is raised slightly in front of their face as if it is guiding them through life.   Of course, these folks are not admiring their hand, but monitoring the little screen around which the fingers are draped.  I suppose it is all done in the name of being connected.  But, connected to what is what I wonder?   Are they connected to a false image of someone else's life?  Or, are they so indispensable that the work place will cease to function without their input?  Or, maybe they are just connected to whatever because life is so boring.
It seems that people are so attentive to their hand held device and the pseudo world it presents that they are no longer attentive to the world through which they are moving.  When the Word of God tells us in these early days of Advent to be attentive, to watch, to stay in a state of readiness it is telling us to be on the lookout for Jesus breaking into our world.  It is a moment we are likely to miss if we are looking no further than our hand.  The truth is we miss a lot of important moments with Jesus because we are not looking.  We are not watching where we are.  We are not expecting a divine breakthrough.  We give sacred status to the mundane and ordinary and miss out on the holy.
The Scripture says we are to be on the lookout for Jesus.  The One who ascended in the clouds has a return event already planned.  But, this does not mean we are to become sky watchers who look up so much they cannot see what is front of them.   And what is in front of us?  A thousand faces who come to us as the Son of God.  To see those in need is to see Him.  To see the ones who suffer is to see Him.  To see the ones hopelessly locked in impossible circumstances is to see Him.  Watch.  Look for Him.  Be attentive to His presence in the present moment and in the ones still to come.  Be ready.  He appears at His choosing even when we are pre-occupied with what is in our hand.  Missing Him should not be an option.  "Father, forgive me for my obsession with myself and create in me a desire to look for You.  Amen."

Thursday, December 7, 2017

In the Dog Fennels

When I was racing toward ten years old, we live out on the edge of Waycross, Georgia in an area of town known as Hebardville.  It was a neighborhood and our street was one of those places that had not yet reached wall to wall house status.   Next to our house was a large corner field filled with dog fennels that soared high over a ten year old boy's head.  I beat down trails and made round clearings big enough to be my own personal hiding places.  I remember laying out in those clearings surrounded by towering dog fennels watching the white puffy clouds drift by on summer days.  I was sure if I looked long enough I was going to see God who I was convinced lived up there and might be caught peering down at me over the edge of one of those clouds.
While I never did see God riding across the blue sky on one of those big white clouds, I suppose I could say it was the beginning of a lifetime of being on the lookout for Him.  The truth is we never know when He is going to show up.  Sometimes it is in the midst of the most ordinary moments of our life.  Sometimes His coming is so extraordinary that it gets framed in our memory as one of those mountain top experiences.  And, surprisingly enough, we have also learned after a life time of struggles that He most surely can be seen and experienced in those dark moments when everything seems to be turned upside down. 
These days of Advent tell us to keep our eyes open.  We are to watch.  We are to be ready.  We are to experience what it is to live with expectancy.  God is always on the prowl.  He is more constant and faithful than anything or anyone in our life, but He can also be very unpredictable.  Advent reminds us to be doing what we should be doing every single day of our life.  Every single day of our life we should be living as if God is going to be meeting us in the next moment.  When we live with such expectancy, no moment is mundane and every moment is filled with the holy.  "Father, I want to be one who has eyes to see and who bless me.  Amen."

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Like the Kingdom

For some time now I have been watching those soaring white barked sycamore trees that stand near the branch on the edge of the hayfield.  Maybe waiting is a better word.  Or, maybe the right word is anticipating.  Three years ago my youngest grandson who was four years old back then discovered the way those big-as-your-face sycamore leaves come drifting down to the ground.  The two of us watched those leaves as they started their journey to the earth and we ran and tried to catch them.  He ran, rolled on the ground, and laughed from deep in his belly as he tried to catch one.  His exuberance and laughter made a boy out of this old grandpa who ran and laughed beside him.  It has become a yearly ritual and each year I wonder if this year will be the last that a grandson wants to catch falling sycamore leaves with his grandpa.
So, as I watch those trees, there is a lot of anticipation.  I anticipate not just the moment of the falling leaves, but the boy laughing.  I anticipate sharing the unbridled joy again with him.  It must be like this in the Kingdom of God once it has fully come upon us.  Oh, I know Jesus said that the Kingdom is near, even here, but it is also still coming.  I suspect that the coming part is going to be exceedingly more wonderful than anything I might could imagine.  Surely, it will be filled with unbridled joy, deep belly laughter, and a giant exuberance for life.  Surely, it will be filled with young boys and their grandpas chasing sycamore leaves.
It seems that my Advent mantra this year has been those words from the most famous prayer ever prayed.  "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven..."  Even as I have watched the sycamore tree, I have been watching those words, waiting on them, hoping that they will one day soon come to pass.  There is this part of me, and most likely it is true of all of us, that longs not just for a better day, but a new day.  We long for that day when our tears will turn into laughter, our cautious living will turn into rolling in the grass, and our death will become our life.  "Lord Jesus, make me hunger and thirst for the things of Your Kingdom.  Amen."

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Waiting and Watching

They said to get ready and to watch.  So, I set out to do it.  Knowing what was coming and knowing I wanted to see, it was the only thing which made sense.  Before darkness fell heavy on the ground, the old gray pick up truck carried me to the middle of the hay field where there was an unobstructed view of the eastern sky.  At first there was nothing to see.  Just the darkness.  And, then, there was a hint of light.  My eyes started searching as if they wanted to be the first ones to see.   There on the horizon appeared a sliver of orange.  For a moment the glory that was about to abound seemed like it was banded to the edge of the world unable to rise, but suddenly it leaped and raced upward as a bright orange globe bent on filling the sky with glory.
I remember another time when I was told to get ready and to watch.   It was not some unknown "they" who told me, but someone I trusted.  How many now during the early days of Advent have I read those words of Jesus which told me to watch, to be ready, to be attentive?  How many times have I heard those words from the sacred book telling me that as Jesus had ascended into heaven, so He will come from heaven?  How many times have I been caught looking?  How many times have I set out to look for Him and to see Him as I set out to watch a full moon rise gloriously in the night sky?

Too many times I must confess to hardly looking.  Or, maybe there have been those times when I looked so hard, I could not see.  Whatever the case, I sense that my life has been too much about missing what I should have seen instead of seeing the One for whom I was told to watch.  This Jesus has a history on this earth.  He also has a present.  And most assuredly, He has a future that includes being seen and known in a glory not yet seen with these eyes of mine.  "Lord Jesus, help me to see You coming in the paths I walk and in the future You will reveal to me.  Help me be ready. Amen."

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Sounds of Advent

I was listening for the sound of hamburgers sizzling on the grill when I heard the sound of wind stirring in the top of the nearby towering pecan tree.  I know wind does not make any noise, but suddenly small limbs were moving and the brown leaves that had been tenaciously hanging started their final journey.  As they became captive to the wind and bounced off branches, there was a noise that heralded the final flight.  I watched as they were driven above the garden, some drifting aimlessly and some moving as if driven by a powerful force.  Regardless of how they flew, all made it safely to their final resting place where they would wait to become part of the nurturing power of the earth.
What was left was a pecan tree now empty and bare.  Limbs were like stick silhouettes suspended in the graying sky.  The final act was completed as brown leaves lay silent beside the already fallen pecans on the ground.  It sometimes seems that in these winter months when so much lays dormant that the trees and the earth are resting.  They are resting and waiting.  The tree once so full of life now waits for the next Spring when mysteriously a power will come forth from the dirt which holds its roots.  Can  barren trees long for such a day, or are they content to wait until that nurturing power brings life again?

I suppose it is too much to ask a tree, but to ask the tree is to hold the same question up to the one who sits by the grill waiting for one sound only to hear another.  When the human soul seems stripped and nothing is left but despair, can it really hope for a day when once again life giving power will sound its coming?  Maybe these souls of ours need those moments when there is nothing to do but wait for the Spirit to come from whence He will to bring His mysterious renewing power to bear on our lives.  "Father God, as these trees rest and wait on You, so teach me to live.  Amen."

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Advent 2017

Ours is a day when evil and chaos seem to have the upper hand.  Hardly, a few more than a few days passes before some grim and tragic reminder greets us in the evening news.   Impossible to comprehend violence and unexplainable evil seems to surface in the most unlikely places.  And, if that is not enough, so many are going through their own version of hell.  Homes are torn asunder by divorce, sickness brings suffering and death into our family circles, and people who appear to be happy are being robbed of joy by terrible loneliness and disappointment.  Who among us does not long for a better day!
Advent comes each year on the Christian calendar as the first season of the liturgical calendar.  Too often it is simply noted as the season which prepares us for Christmas as Lent prepares us for the celebration of the Resurrection.  Actually, Advent has little to do with Christmas and more to do with this longing within us that is more appropriately spoken of us as hope.  Advent encourages us to hope again.  Sometimes life is so hard and difficult that we live without hope.  Or, if we speak of hope, we only do so because we know it is how we are supposed to live as Christians.  It is not because we are hopeful.
The truth is that hoping is a daring leap for many of our day.  How do we hope when everything about life says that it is only a thing for fools?  How do we really long for a new day when it appears that there is nothing new under the heavens as far as our life is concerned?  Advent tells us to hope.  It tells us wait for our hope.  It tells us to wait for it is surely coming.  When we gather to worship, we pray the Lord's Prayer which has those words, "...thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven..."   Such is how Jesus taught us to pray and such is how the Spirit dares us to hope. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Table Talk

The church expresses its most authentic self when it gathers around the table for the Holy Meal.  In such a moment the crucified Christ and the cross is squarely in the midst of its life.  There is no whitewashing the gathering.  It is not a social gathering, but one where the centerpiece is the bloody sacrifice of the Lamb of God, the One known as Jesus. It is a moment made necessary because of the sinfulness of those who gather in that holy place.  Were we not sinners in need of divine forgiveness, no one would need such a Table on the center stage of the sanctuary.
How we talk about that moment has always seemed important.  How we talk about it reveals much about those who partake of the holy meal.  In my United Methodist tradition, the meal is served to those who kneel at an altar surrounding the table.  There have been times when folks have talked about "taking communion."  Yet, the truth is that the Table is not a place for taking, but for receiving.  The things people take at the Table are not worth having.  It is what we receive that matters.  What is taken are things like being seen by others, the benefits of pietistic posturing, and a personal sense of spiritual worth.  What is received is an abundance of grace that leaves us overwhelmed and grateful.

In the teaching moments which were afforded to me over the years, I always encouraged people to kneel with open hands as the holy meal was offered.  Open hands cannot take, they can only be filled.  Only hands do not demand, they can only receive.  It is a remembrance this old preacher remembers with such clarity.  An altar lined with open hands spoke of hearts being opened to receive those abundant spiritual blessings being offered and freely given by the Broken One of the Cross.  There was no greater privilege than to stand in that place as the one who served Jesus by serving those who were waiting. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Croissants and Coffee

The church always seems concerned with what it can do to be more attractive to the masses.  As I remember the years of active ministry, I remember many planning meetings where we sat around the table trying to figure out some strategy for getting more people to show up on Sunday morning.  We talked about offering breakfast bakery buffets, special classes for different sociological groupings, providing close to the front door parking spaces for visitors, and all sorts of stuff that might attract people to our version of church. 
I suppose we were afraid to take Jesus at His Word.  So afraid were we that His Word might not work in our sophisticated and diverse culture that we bowed down to our version of some wooden Baal.  Preachers like me who should have known better were often the planner leading the charge toward appeasing the culture at the expense of forsaking the Christ.  In John's gospel we hear Jesus saying something seldom considered in those long planning meetings.  "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself." (John 12:32)  Of course, to take seriously that Word of Jesus would mean following in the theological footprints of the Apostle Paul who wrote to the Corinthian Christians, "we proclaim Christ crucified..."  (I Corinthians 1:23)
Could it possibly be true?  Is the Word of God really dependable?  Is Jesus really trustworthy?  Would it really make a difference in the drawing power of the church if our only strategy was to preach Christ crucified and the cross was restored to the gospel message preached Sunday after Sunday?  Do you reckon the cross could possibly have more staying power than the croissants and coffee served on Sunday morning?  And, even more important, do you reckon the cross could have more saving power, or is the church still in that business?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Forward by Accomodation

The church seeks to save itself through accommodation.  It is not the first time the people of God have walked that route.  The Hebrews left Egypt with Moses out front, but by the time they reached the Promised Land, their leader lay in an unmarked mountain top grave and a new younger man named Joshua had emerged to lead them across the Jordan.  When they crossed the river and went into the new land, they carried with them a unique spiritual heritage, one unlike any other which existed on the face of the earth.  It was the "there is only one God" faith. 
When they made safe passage across the dry river bed, things started to change.  They found themselves among a people bent by conquest, but a people still bowing to wooden hand made gods like Baal.  Instead of declaring the faith of their heritage, they accommodated the culture around them by installing some of those wooden gods in their own homes.  Perhaps, it started because sons and daughters found marriage partners among the Baal worshippers, or perhaps, this worship of a fertility god became a hedge against loosing crops due to lack of rain.  Whatever, the reason, the Hebrews started buying into the culture, accommodating its false value system, and compromising their own spiritual heritage as the unique people of God. 
The church today seems to be walking down this same road.  It was a road that took the Hebrews away from the regions around the Jordan River to foreign lands beside the River Chebar in Babylon.  Not being a prophet or a prophet's son, this old worn out preacher cannot see into the future, but does have great fear that a church with such a rich spiritual heritage could choose to forsake it through cultural accommodation and theological compromise.  The road forward is a dangerous road if the church chooses common consensus as its authority instead of the timeless, tested written Word of God.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Dream Church

I  overheard some radio conversation today about a dream church.  How would the church of your dreams look?  As I listened I heard a lot of conversation about the building's appearance, its location, and how many singers would be in the band.  It would be a church with a coffee shop, bakery, restaurant, and a fitness center complete with personal trainers.  It would provide many opportunities for social engagement and each member would be expected to be involved in one service oriented ministry.  While the conversation did not make me want to join up, it did set me to thinking.
Too often it seems that our thoughts about the church are too physical, too oriented toward being attractive to the masses, and too much an attempt to blend with the secular world.  Too many times it is spoken of with an institutional language instead of a language that speaks more of a spiritual community.  If my dreams for the church could come to pass, it would be a community that is first and foremost understood as a spiritual community.  While such may not be much for a slick advertising campaign to exploit, it has always seemed to me that the church must stand as a spiritual community brought into being by the Holy Spirit, or it has no standing at all.
When the church exists as a spiritual community, it is not expending energy entertaining, nor is it worried about its reputation.  How it looks is secondary to what it is.  Being and waiting take precedence over doing and staying busy.  A spiritual community brought into being by the Holy Spirit is one that has as its first purpose pointing people toward God and nurturing a relationship with Him.  It is a community that trust believers who have been nurtured to find the things God is calling them to do without any institutional coercion. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Went Where Sent

On a recent Sunday morning, an acquaintance told me she had to go to church that Sunday night as her church was voting on a new preacher.  I knew what she meant.  In churches with a congregational governing style, prospective preachers make a visit, get acquainted, preach a trial sermon, and then the congregation votes.  As a United Methodist preacher I was always grateful for a governing system that simply sent me to a church for at least a year without a trial sermon and a congregational vote.  There have been some Sunday mornings when I struggled to string two sentences together in the sermon and such would have surely been the case had I had to go somewhere to preach a trial sermon.
Having a year for a church to figure out a preacher and for the preacher to figure out the church usually results in a longer pastorate than a year.  I figure that in most of my appointments, the folks in the church might have figured they could do worse than me so they decided to keep me around.  I look back over the preaching years with thanksgiving that in most cases the people in the church were gracious enough to put up with me for as many as ten years in one case and nine years in another.  I started preaching when four years was considered enough and preachers were moved by the Bishop, but by the time I finished, longer pastorates such as mine were becoming more the norm.
Some church folks do not care for long term appointments for their preacher.  Some like more turnover.  I know one guy who left one of my longer pastorates after four years and came back from his new church before I left the one he had earlier left.  Some people just need more change than others.  Some preachers are that way, too.  They get itchy feet.  They start thinking the grass is greener somewhere else.  Of course, nothing is wrong with change, but generally the church and the preachers work better when the cloud of change is not forever hanging overhead.  I am grateful for all the churches I served.  Maybe some, more than others.  Sometimes I went where sent not sure I wanted to go, but always sure that God had a hand in what was happening. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Ain't Spittin'

I am a sucker for a good western movie.  I always have been.  I do not really care for the ones that have graphic violence as the thing which carries the story forward.  I much prefer a strong weathered looking old cowboy, a herd of ornery cattle ready to stampede, a cattle drive with dangerous river crossings, and maybe a heroine who stays in the cowboy's mind and may even steals his heart.  Monte Walsh is one of the cowboy characters I love.  Toward the end of the movie when being a cowboy is no longer fashionable, he entertains the idea of joining a wild west show, but then dismisses the whole pretense of it with the words, "I ain't gonna spit on my whole life."
I sometimes finding myself looking at the church through the eyes of Monte Walsh.  The church we call "ours" is actually His and was bought into being by a powerful work of the Holy Spirit.  It has prevailed through all these centuries.  It has withstood the worst that humanity could throw at it, endured persecutions, and persisted through theological heresies.  It is of God.  It is His creation.  He is the One who sustains it and calls it into the future.  It is a church I have known.  It nurtured me as a child, baptized me, invited me into a relationship with Jesus, called me to preach the gospel, provided for me a place to serve God, and one day when my soul departs this body, I hope this body can rest a spell before the altar and the pulpit which has so ordered my life. 

There is much confusion in our church today.  Theological heresies abound.  Common consensus seems to have more authority than the Word of God.  Feeling good upon departure from worship is the mark of good worship.  The church continues to have rifts from within as its people become too focused on trivial pursuits instead of eternal ones.  Why should I stay?  Why not leave?  Why not sell out and become one of those who takes the road of political correctness even it means sacrificing theological integrity.  Like that old worn out looking cowboy, this old worn out looking preacher can only say, ""I ain't gonna spit on my whole life."

Saturday, November 25, 2017

And, More Grace

I remember like it was yesterday where it was that I read for what must have been the first time those sections of Scripture from the gospel of John that speak of the work of the Holy Spirit.   I was somewhere between being a boy and becoming a man.  It was in those in-between years that I started reading the Word with some degree of seriousness.  What I remember mostly about those verses about the Holy Spirit was my amazement.  Could it be true that the Holy Spirit really would really guide me into all truth?  Would the Holy Spirit really bring to mind the teachings of Jesus?  Would the Holy Spirit really let me know when I was messing up?  Would the Holy Spirit really stand alongside of me as Jesus would were He still present?   (John 14-16)
Even as a teenager who thought he knew far more than he really did, I found these Words of Scripture to be mind boggling.  Way back then I knew that there was something special about the work of the Holy Spirit.  In those days I was only beginning to understand.  Sometimes in these days which have become almost ancient I have the same feeling.  Could it be in these the last day of my time on earth I am only beginning to understand the depth of the power of the Holy Spirit, the overwhelming sense of presence that He brings to life, and an inner working that enables me to be more in tune with what God's will is for my life?  Could it be?  I have come to believe that it is true. 
For so long I have repeated the creed not because I was taught to say it, but because I have come to know it as a truth and a foundation stone of my life.  I do believe in the Holy Spirit.  I do trust in His power to prevail.  My understanding of all that He is and does is greatly overshadowed by my sheer amazement at the breadth of the divine possibilities that He brings to the table of my spiritual life.  What I do not know far surpasses what I know.  But, this I know.  I believe.  I trust.  I have faith that the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead also dwells in me. (Romans 8:11)  The only explanation I know for such an extraordinary and incredible thing is grace.  Grace.  Grace.  And, more grace. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Not Top Billing

Most of us remember "The Apostle's Creed" not because we set out to learn it.  We just repeated it so many times, we learned it without ever knowing we were learning it.   Like many others, it would be impossible to know how many times I have repeated this ancient creed in worship.  It is interesting the way it enables us to affirm belief in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  But, have you ever noticed that it only takes twelve words to speak about God and over five times that many to define what we believe about Jesus.  And, then we wrap it up with "I believe in the Holy Spirit."  Put a big period at the end of that creedal statement.  Six words is all it takes. 
It almost seems that affirming belief in the Holy Spirit was an afterthought.  With the Holy Spirit there are no defining words and no embellishing statements.  Maybe this should not surprise since the Holy Spirit does not call attention to Himself, but instead always points people toward God the Father and Jesus the Son.  When we read the Scripture very little is written about the Holy Spirit.  As the author of the Word, the Holy Spirit certainly does not call attention to Himself.  The Creed we learned as children does this as well.
Surely, this tells us an important truth about the Spirit.  While there has been a time when the Holy Spirit was almost completely off the radar of the church, nowadays when we listen it sometimes seems that the Holy Spirit is in the spotlight on center stage.  Unfortunately, the focus is on His power and how believers can use the Holy Spirit to get more of what seems to be needed in life.  It is as if He is some spiritual power wheel which turns to bring benefit to us in our spiritual lives.  Maybe the ancient writers had something else in mind when they simply wrote, "I believe in the Holy Spirit."

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Gratitude Journal

What I call my Gratitude Journal is a little over four years old.  While I have done some journaling over the years, I have always lacked the "stick-tu-itive-ness" which is necessary for it to be a part of my lifestyle instead of a discipline with which I struggle.   To some degree I have stuck with this Gratitude Journal.  It is not an every day thing, but the entries have added up over the years.  What got me started was my reading of a book entitled "One Thousand Gifts" by Ann Voskamp.  In some ways she writes about her struggle to live with Ephesians 5:20 which reads, " thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."  

Most of us are like the author in that we, too, struggle to give thanks to God at all times and in every circumstance.  We do fine when things are going well, but when hit by the hard stuff of life it is much more difficult to live with an attitude of gratitude.  What has stuck with me over the years from the Voskamp book is that being thankful is more than something which occurs momentarily in our life, but is instead something which speaks of an attitude through which we view all of our life.  Maybe it has been a word which has made me more attentive to what is really going around me which is not always what I am seeing.

It is easy to see the unspeakable suffering and the horrible tragedies which seems to overflow the quiet serene life we try to live, but it is another matter to see how God is using people to bring His work to bear in those situations we do not want to even see.  Living with an attitude of thanksgiving is not something we can make ourselves do, but it is something God's Spirit can grow in our hearts if we will only give permission.  The Word says that nothing is beyond God's ability to work good.  We miss this part when we all we want to do is name and curse the darkness. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Lunatic or Lord

 Jesus does not give us a lot of choices.  As C.S. Lewis tells us, there are only two.  "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse."  The one thing Jesus does not give is middle ground.  He is either lunatic or Lord. 
Long ago I decided to go with the second choice.  It was then and continues to be the only one that makes sense.  But, it was not common sense that brought me to a place of believing in Jesus and accepting Him as Savior.  When I look at that moment with the all the honesty I can bring to it, I know it was then and continues to be all about divine grace.  As John Newton put it in his most famous hymn, " 'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved; how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed."   While I made the choice of choosing faith, such a choosing would not have been in the realm of possibilities were it not for the grace of God. 
The longer I live, the more I realize that for me it has mostly been about grace.  Maybe, a more honest thing to say is that it is all about grace.   Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God."  (Ephesians 2:8)  Yes, I believe.  Yes, I believe in Jesus.  Yes, I know Him as Savior and Lord.  And, yes, I also know my act of believing in Jesus is a life time choice I made and continue to make, but it is God's grace which has opened the door to a world where faith makes a difference.  Thanks be to God for His incredible goodness!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

1000 X 1000 and More

I believe in Jesus.  I did not always make good choices as a teenager, but choosing Jesus way back then was the decision of a lifetime.  When I knelt by my bed just before I reached eighteen years of age and accepted Jesus as the Savior I so desperately needed, the direction of my life was turned in a new and different direction.  While it was a moment of hearing a call to ministry, even more it was a beckoning toward a way of life that put within me new attitudes, new purposes, and new hopes.  I needed some solid ground upon which to stand and build the rest of my life.  Jesus has proven to be that solid ground a thousand times a thousand and more.
Believing Jesus to be a good teacher is not that same thing as believing in Him as the Savior of the world, or the Savior who died for our sins.  Believing that Jesus died for our sins on the cross requires some pre-requisite convictions.  First, it is necessary to know our self as a sinner-- not someone who makes bad choices, or who is the victim of uncontrollable circumstances, but a sinner.  Secondly, it is necessary to know that sin separates us from God who is holy.  Thirdly, once separated from God because of sin, we do not have the  power within us to make things right again.  The choice to sin is in our hands, but the power to make ourselves right before God is not something we can do.  Fourthly, Someone outside of our self is required to do for us what we cannot do for our self.  This someone is Jesus who sacrificed Himself on the cross to take care of the problem sin causes for us.  He makes it possible for us to be reconciled to God; thereby, overcoming the separation.

While this is a bit too simple for some, it is all true.  Jesus did for us what we cannot do for our self.  We cannot save our self.  We are sinners in need of not just a savior, but sinners in need of the Savior of the world, the One sent by God to assure us of forgiveness and provide for us a reconciled life.  I believe in Jesus.  I believe a thousand times a thousand and more that Jesus died on the cross because of my sins and yours sins and that His obedience can deliver us from the power sin and guilt has over us. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Even Me...Even You

When we read those parts of the Word which tell us that God has a plan for you and me, we sometimes find ourselves wondering.  Like the believer who thinks he or she must have been behind the door when spiritual gifts were being given out, some of us feel that way about God's plan for us.  While we do not question that He has a plan for some folks, we are so immersed in what seems to be an ordinary commonplace life that we read those Words about a divine plan more with resignation than strong conviction.  Our lives are not as exciting as some who find that God's plan sends them on great journeys.  Instead, we find ourselves wandering around where we have always been doing what we always have done.
But, the truth is that God really does have a plan for each of us.  It begins with seeing Jesus dying on the cross and coming to understand what that single act of sacrifice and love means for each one of us.  As we begin to walk in that unfolding plan, we see that we are being called to a life that speaks of the heart and spirit of Jesus.  His plan is for us to be live with grace and to give grace.  It is for us to be kind and compassionate, understanding, and accepting.  His plan means living as one who is ready to forgive instead of nurturing grudges.  Actually, if we want to see something of the plan of God for each one of us, we need go no further than a reading of the Sermon on the Mount.
No single one of us is a step-child in the family of God.  We are heirs with the Son.  We are full members of the family.  We are loved by Him and if we were the only one in need of the cross, He would have died for that single one of us.  Make no mistake.  There is a plan.  The plan speaks of how we are to live loving God and loving those around us.   

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Trembling Place

When some say, "It is easy for you to talk about believing in the plan of God" because you have never been without a roof over your head, or you have never had to worry about the next meal, or you have never held your small child in your arms while she dies from not having anything to eat or drink, or you do not know what it is like to live as a refugee, I can offer no argument.  Whenever I say that I believe in the plan of God, it seems that I am standing on trembling earth.  I do not understand why some live with Job like disasters in their life and mine has been so different.
It is not that my life has been empty of tragedy, or great difficulties, or chaos.  I can look back over my three score and ten years and see some rough times, but still I know my troubles have been of a lesser consequence than many.  When I speak of believing that life is purposeful and inside the great broad plan of God, I speak not of some special treatment.  I am not claiming some privileged status in the eyes of God.  Far from it.  Like the Apostle Paul, I belong in the "chief among sinners" category.  What I speak about is not being special or privileged in my personal situation, but of a mindset which we grow into as we learn to trust in God.

There is no question that I live without complete understanding of the things of God.  But, believing in Him means that He is trustworthy.  God does not lie or misrepresent Himself.  Neither does He speak half truths, or withhold some of it to make Himself look good in my eyes.  So, when He speaks in His written Word, I have no choice but to believe it. Even when I do not understand and even when it seems to have confusing contradictions or paradoxes, I accept the reality that God speaks truth.  Neither does it change my belief in Him and the plan He is working out in my  life and yours..

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Plan

We all have plans for our life.  It does not matter whether we are 18 or 81, we still make our plans.  It is as if the reality for tomorrow demands a plan.   Sometimes our plans work out as we planned and, sometimes, there is no evidence of them in our life.   It is true what the old poet said about "the best laid plan of mice and men,"  "they oft' go awry."   I have watched some of my plans come to fruition, but I have also seen them like shattered glass on the ground.  One of the reassuring things about which the Word speaks is God's plan for us.
For some it is a bit too much to think that life can somehow be understood as being inside the plan and purposes of God.  Is it not too much of an ego trip to think that God with all He has to do to keep the universe going would have a plan for individual people like you and me?  Could it not be a way of avoiding responsibility for a life poorly lived by simply shrugging the shoulders and saying life is as it is because it is God's plan?  If God has a plan, then why should we make any at all?  Maybe all we should really do is sit back and let Him work out His plan in our life. 
Of course, there are numerous passages which point to God having a plan for our life.  One is certainly Romans 8:28 which reminds us that not even difficult times can mess up the plan of God.  And then in Jeremiah 29:11, there is that often quoted verse which says, "For surely I know the plans I have made for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope."  As I was going forward into the future, I spoke of such being true, but mostly I spoke with hope.  As I find myself now looking back and seeing more past than future ahead, I am convinced that my life has been no different than yours.  Too much has happened for good beyond any control of mine not to be convinced that God was working out His plan and purposes for my life.  More than ever, I believe in the plan of God. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Question

The gospel of John can be read and understood as a writing which underscores the importance of belief.  The many narratives tell us about different folks who made different choices.  Some chose to believe.  Some chose not to believe. The choice was not regarded as inconsequential by the writer of the gospel and neither should we think of choosing to believe as something that really does not matter.  The truth is that our choice not only affects the way we are able to live in the present moment, but also through eternity. 
Unfortunately, we live in a day and midst a culture that is so oriented toward today that catching a glimpse of something as big as eternity is an impossibility.  We are a people with a short term view of what is ahead.  We buy our automobiles without any real consideration as to the total cost over the years, only how much it is going to cost to make the monthly payment.  We pay for stuff with plastic because what we want we want now.  We bulldoze through life making a way forward that works best for us today.  While we may give some consideration to putting up money in a retirement fund, we mostly make choices without much consideration to the consequences.  We figure when we get to the future, we will figure it out just as we are figuring out the present.

When we start living with faith in God, trusting in Him, making personal the ancient creed which begins with the words, "I believe in God"  a whole new world opens up in front of us.  We begin to realize that the Kingdom of God is not something which will begin one day, but know that it is something which has already taken root in our heart.  Believing in God moves our reason for living from living to serve self to living to serve God.  We realize that what we do in the present moment will have consequences that will be felt after we are gone from this earth and into the far reaches of eternity as well. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Backup

To affirm "I believe in God" is to speak of a willful decision made not only in the past, but one which is continually made.   We are not born with belief in Him within us, it is something we must choose.  To speak of it being a willful decision may seem to isolate it in the past, but instead, it is a choice which has forever consequences in terms of our lifestyle.  When we decide to believe in God, we are no longer the same.  A change has been made.  Before choosing to believe in God, we lived as a person who believed in self, or some other person, or some thing peculiar to appeasing our ego.
Perhaps, this is why Jesus preached a message of repentance.  We cannot truly live as one who believes in God without repentance.  To declare belief in God screams in the face of everything that was a part of our life prior to the moment of choosing to depend on God.  As we seek to understand what believing in God is all about, that word "depend" truly seems to be an appropriate word.  We depend on God not as one who has a hand out ready for some spiritual handout, but as one who understands that God is the One who gives life, sustains life, and provides all that is necessary for the living we do.  It is in this sense that we depend on God.
Prior to believing in Him, we depended on ourselves.  And even after we choose belief in God as a lifestyle, it is a struggle as we often end up trying to do the thing the ancient Hebrews did as they worshiped Baal and Yahweh.  When they worshipped Baal, they did not throw Yahweh away.  They just kept Baal around in case Yahweh did not deliver on giving them what they thought they needed.  So are we tempted to live.  We say, "I believe in God," but we often end up as if we believe first in ourselves to provide and keep God around as backup in case things do not work out. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

More Than Awareness

While I can remember being aware of God at age seven or eight, it would be a big stretch of the truth to say that I believed in God back then.  Belief or faith is a big concept for a child.  At least it would have been for me.  Awareness is a better word.   My first thoughts of God were filled with images of this big guy peering over heaven's white clouds to see what I was doing.  In one hand He had this big black book and the other a pen to write down what I was doing.  As a child I had no sense of being in a relationship with God as relationships belong to the adult world and not to the world I knew as  a child.    I knew He was there, wherever there was, and that was enough when I was not yet ten years of age.
It was not faith or belief that guided me in my childhood search for God.  Looking back the theological concept which took hold of me before faith was love.  I grew up hearing that this God who was there somewhere loved me.  Not only did He love me, but He wanted me to love Him.  Love is what pushed me forward toward that moment when I would be able to say, "I believe in God" at some personal moment instead of inside the community moment of reciting "The Apostle's Creed."  I do not remember exactly when, but I do know that when I first believed in God it was the God who had revealed Himself in love.

For a long time now I have lived with the words, "I believe in God."  Of course, it is more than just a set of words.  To speak of belief speaks of dependence on Him to be who He has declared Himself to be.  It speaks of surrender to a will that trumps my will.  To affirm "I believe in God" is the fundamental building stones of my life.  Everything begins and ends with those words.  While I am still very much aware of His presence, He has become the One around whom my life turns.  I believe in God.  Those few words say everything about who I am.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Dangerous Time

Perhaps, something called "form criticism" helped open the Pandora's Box.  I first became acquainted with the term while in seminary .  The term speaks of a scholarly approach to Scripture which provides a way to separate what the Scripture says it says from what it meant to say.  Or, if talking about the New Testament, it separates what Jesus says from what He actually said. While I am not necessarily ready to throw the process out the door, it does create a world where someone's interpretation of the Scripture becomes more authoritative than the Scripture itself. 
I have always remembered a rather extensive article from the early 1990's written by one of those sociologist type guys who after studying the church in our country predicted that denominational churches were in trouble because of a movement toward a more autonomous church.  In a culture which has been steadily moving toward a "it's all about me" value system, that movement has only been accentuated.  Add all this to the "feel good" theology being preached in too many places and a perfect storm has been created to undermine the authority of the sacred Word of God.
The interpreter has become more authoritative than the Word being interpreted.  The interpreter has become more knowledgeable about what God is saying than the writer who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  It is, therefore, no surprise that when the Word of God is shown to be in conflict with the culture's common consensus based value system, the Word is deemed to be irrelevant and can be discarded with a self-righteous flourish.  After all, if enough people say something is right, it must be right.  Where is the authority for the church and the believer?  In too many instances, it is not found in the Word, but in the secular culture.

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Life Changing Word

When I say, "I believe in the power of the Word of God to change lives,"  I do so because of what I read in the Scripture, but also because of what I have seen in the lives of folks around me.   When a person begins to read the Word seriously, there is no telling what is going to happen.  I witnessed this happening so often during the twenty years I led Disciple Bible Study.  Disciple involved a commitment on the part of those who participated to 1) read selected portions of the Scripture every day which required 30-45 minutes, 2) be involved in a weekly gathering that lasted 2 1/2 hours,  3) use a workbook as a study guide, and 4) to be involved each such a way for a period of 9 months. 
It was not something for the faint-hearted, or the person who simply wanted to dabble in the Word.  It was for folks who were serious about reading the Word and listening to what God was saying to them through it.  As a leader I had a front row seat to watch what God was doing in people's lives.  People who were marginal believers became people of strong and certain faith.  People found themselves daring to do things for God they never would have imagined doing.  For so many it because a catalyst and jumping off point for a life that spoke of a far deeper level of discipleship. 
One of the things that always amazed me was the way some would find themselves in a dark and difficult place after Disciple was over.  It happened often enough that it seemed as if God was using the nine months of immersion in the Word to prepare them for something He knew to be ahead,  but something they could have anticipated.  Their witness in those difficult hours spoke of a new awareness of how God was with them through whatever it was that came.  Whenever the Word of God is read and allowed to take root in our hearts, there is no comprehending the power for life that is being poured into us.  Thanks be to God and thanks be to God for His Word!