Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Fourth Trumpet

With the writing of the 18th verse of this 8th chapter of Romans, we come to a Word which does not seem one to shout, but one to whisper in holy wonder.  "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to revealed to us."  If ever a Word of Holy Scripture was written in faith, it is surely this Word.  As Paul writes, he does so as one whose body has been hammered on the anvil of suffering.  He endured much in order to live in faithfulness to the calling of the Damascus Road.  He endured the kind of suffering that comes from storm and deprivation, but also the kind that comes at the hands of evil men who sought to bring him to the point of death as a way of deterring his proclamation of the Christ. 
What a contrast he makes with this verse.  He compares suffering in the present with glory in the future.  He puts them on the scales and the weight of the suffering did not push down the balance because on the other side was the glory about to be revealed.  In a surprising and unexpected way, he connects our suffering and God's glory.  As difficult as the present moment may be, it can never have more impact upon us than the glory God is going to reveal to us.  Suffering is hard.  There is no other thing to say that is honest.  But, there is also glory.  It is a glory that will cause us to know that whatever comes is hardly going to be remembered in light of the life that awaits us with Him in the heavenly places.
Ah, here is a Word which goes beyond this preacher's ability to speak.  Sometimes the deep things of God known in the heart are hard to frame with words, but that human frailty does not diminish the divine promise and its power.   What we cannot speak, we shall know.  As Paul will later write, "Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what is seen?" (Romans 8:24)  Sound the trumpet!  Hear its sounds and know that God is doing a great and extraordinary thing!

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Third Trumpet

An amazing and incredible thing has happened.  It happened on earth, was documented in heaven, and made valid for each one of us who chooses to have faith in Christ.  Sound the trumpet!  It is a Word worthy of heralding.  It is a part of that gospel which the Apostle Paul has declared to be "the power of God..." (Romans 1:16)   Even though we have looked in the mirror for a life time and called ourselves sinners, God has changed all that through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross.  As sure as Abram received the new name, Abraham, and as sure as Saul of Tarsus became Paul the Apostle, we are known no longer in the heavenly places as sinner, but child of God. 

Who among us counts ourselves worthy of such a new name?  Not one.  No, not a single one.  But, we have been given a new name through the grace of God.  No longer are we those separated from God because of our sin, but because of the cross and our faith in the One who died there, we are now seen by our Father God as one of His children.  But, Romans 8 does not simply stop at that point.  It goes on to declare that this new reality is declared from within our hearts by the all powerful, death overcoming, equipping, and enabling Holy Spirit.  "When we cry, 'Abba! Father!' it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God."  (Romans 8:15-16)

Children of God is who we are.  This is how God now sees us.  We have been adopted into His family and as one of His we are given all the spiritual blessings that He can possibly pour out upon those who belong to Him.  If we are able to give good gifts to our children and we are but mortal parents, imagine, if possible, the exceedingly good gifts God gives to us because we belong to Him.  Surely one of the blessing is the inner assurance that we belong to God and are known by Him as one who belongs to Him.  What a Word!  Each one of us is a child belonging to God.  Sound the trumpet!  There is good news to proclaim!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Second Trumpet

With the sound of the first trumpet beginning to fade away, there is suddenly the strong blast of the second as the 11th verse of Romans 8 appears on the page.  "If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through His Spirit that dwells in you."  The empty tomb that Sunday morning shouted out to the whole world and every generation of people born and still to be born that resurrection power has been unleashed in the world.  Nothing has changed the world like the advent of resurrection power.
Of course, the Word not only declares that Jesus was raised from the tomb by the power of the Holy Spirit, but goes on to declares that the same power resides in us because the Holy Spirit resides in us.  If there is anything that we underestimate and undervalue in the spiritual realm, it is surely the difference the Holy Spirit can have in our lives.  If He has such power as to raise Jesus from the dead, then there is no way for us to comprehend what He can also do in and through our lives.  A source of power is available to us through His presence that exists nowhere else in all the creation.
Of all the verses of the 8th chapter of Romans, this one surely stands as the most power filled.  To meditate on it is to see the change that is possible in our own hearts.  There is no reason for us to give the power of sin permission to be the victor in our lives.  There is no reason to think that we are not regarded by God as people of great value.  There is no reason to think that a single one of His promises can be made invalid by the circumstances of our life.  No!  The power that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in each one of us.  Hear that trumpet blow!  It is indeed the sound of a mighty wind blowing through the world and the core of our soul! 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The First Trumpet

Hear the blast of the first trumpet and know that there are more to come.  "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  (Romans 8:1)   A seminary professor who taught a course on methodology in Bible study always said, "When you read a "therefore,' something important is coming."  Over and over during these decades I have remembered and affirmed the truth of what he taught us.  No condemnation.  Blow that trumpet again!  It brings to mind that passage from John's gospel which says, "...God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him."  (John 3:17)  And most assuredly it brings to mind that story regarded as questionable by some which we know as Jesus' encounter with the woman caught in the act of adultery.  When those who would condemn her slipped away, Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you.  Go your way, and then from now on, do not sin again."  (John 8:11)
What is clear is that the mission of Jesus was not about condemnation.  It is not with condemnation that He looks upon us.  Certainly, in our moments of honest introspection we would declare condemnation is what we deserve for we are so prone to sin.  What one of us has not said, "If anyone is worthy of condemnation, Lord, surely it is I."  The name we have worn so long and know so well is the name "sinner."  But, Jesus has not come to beat us into the ground, but to lift us up to a place where we can live and live without having to be filled with regret, always conscious of wrong choices, and knowing that we have no hope.  He comes to us with a different agenda.
The hymn "And Can it Be" declares, "No condemnation now I dread; Jesus and all in Him is mine; alive in Him, my living Head, and clothed in righteous divine, bold I approach the eternal throne, and claim the crown, through Christ my own."  I always love to sing that last verse.  It is indeed a triumphant ending.  Voices sound louder and power rings through the air of the sacred space.  Singing those words and celebrating what Christ is about is always a moment for hearing the heavenly trumpets sounding in our midst. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

Hear the Trumpets Blowing

Paul's letter to the Romans is a must read for every believer. Sometimes we are a bit slow in getting there because it seems too heavy.  There is no narrative to carry us from beginning to end.  But, once we really get to reading, we start hearing the trumpets blowing.  Particularly is this the case in the 8th chapter of this letter.  It is full of the powerful sounds of trumpets blowing in the air.  The trumpets sound with more power than those which brought down the walls of Jericho and have almost as much force as those which will be heard when Jesus returns again in the clouds. 
One after another they roll across the text.  Powerful, life-changing Words.  When I was preaching in Vidalia I did what every preacher does at one time or another.  I launched out one year to preach Romans from beginning to end.  As I look back over notes in my study Bible, I count 34 sermons preached during that sermons series and six of them were preached from the 8th chapter.  That particular section of the Word cannot be read quickly.  It requires time.  It demands our full attention.  To read it is to realize the truth of what Paul wrote in the very beginning of the letter, "...the gospel is the power of God for salvation..." (Romans 1:16) 
Set aside some serious time to read and meditate over these verses.  Do not be in a hurry.  Let the words once again soak down deep in your soul.  Read it not as one who knows what is ahead, but as one who is seeking to be surprised and overwhelmed by some fresh touch of the Holy Spirit.  Listen in the silence for the soft voice of God and then listen as the distant sound of trumpets start sounding closer and closer until there is nothing left but the magnificent sounds of the glory of God being poured out all around us.

Thursday, February 23, 2017


As an old man with five grandchildren, four of whom came into our family through international adoption, I see those Biblical words about adoption through a different lens.  I have been given a front row seat which has enabled me to see the whole thing in a way which would have otherwise been impossible.  When we read Romans 8 or Galatians 4 and hear Paul talking about how we are adopted by our Father God, we usually hear some teaching which speaks of what has happens to a child who is adopted.  But, there is another side to it.  Adoption not only involves the child, but also the one who is doing the adopting. 
While there is much to glean from thinking about the adopted child, there is also a glimpse of God to be seen as we see Him as the One responsible for the adoption.  To adopt a child means that someone has to take the initiative.  Someone has to have the desire.  Someone has to risk loving a child without any guarantees.  It means taking absolute responsibility.  It is a forever commitment.  All of this speaks of what God has done for us through Christ.  Now, this is not to affirm a "once saved always saved" mentality for choice is always an operative word in any relationship that is founded and based on love.  It is instead a way of seeing God as a Father who would take such a risk with us simply because He loves us.
Our heavenly Father has chosen to link our lives with Him.  He has chosen each one of us as one who belongs to Him.  As an adopted child becomes an heir to all belonging to the adopted parents, so does our Father in heaven grant to us an inheritance which is uniquely His to give.  His inheritance is one that is beyond rich, more than full of blessings, and will last us as long as eternity itself.  As we consider who we are and Who He is, there is no reason to ever think that we are not loved beyond the ability to measure. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


There are nights when we go to bed with hope.  There are mornings we rise with it knowing that without it, we might as well fall back into deep sleep.  It is what keeps us going even when the deck is stacked against us and impossible is the only word which really makes any sense to us.  Hope is an amazing thing.  It is that gift which keeps us going.  It causes us to look for God to act even as we have been wondering in the deep places of our heart if He is even around watching.  Hope keeps us from giving up.  It keeps us pointed toward going.
In the 8th chapter of Romans, Paul was inspired to write so many wonderful words that some of the in between verses slip away into the obscurity.  If you are a verse of scripture, you do not want to be a verse after Romans 8:1 which trumpets, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  The same can be said of those verses which follow Romans 8:11 and Romans 8:18.  And, of course, no verse in its right mind wants to follow Romans 8:28 or Romans 8:37-39.  Paul simply outdid himself when he penned this particular section of his letter to the Romans.  One of those more obscure verses is the 24th and 25th.  "For in hope we are saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what is seen?  But, if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience."  What a Word!  It is food for the broken spirit, the crying heart, and the thirsty soul.
Is it not amazing the way God speaks to us through His Word?  Is it not true that the Word written so long ago, inspired by the Holy Spirit, sometimes seems to us like a Word written just yesterday with our very life in view?  Is it not amazing that God could and would write such a powerful and timeless Word for those He calls to be His own?  Ah, this hope in the heart.  It is indeed the very thing which connects intimately to the God who saves us, delivers us, and is intending to bring us home.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Promise Giver, Promise Keeper

Anyone can make promises.  In any political season, they are a dime a dozen.  Cheap.  Often made with no intention of keeping.  Children, too, are great promise makers.   How many times have we heard one say to another, "I promise not to tell!"  On a more serious level, a lot of promising goes on at the altar of matrimony, or at the waters of baptism, or at the loan office in the bank and, as we know, some of those promises are not kept.  Some are made with no serious intention to keep them.  Some are broken before the water or the ink dries.  It is one thing to make promises; another to keep them.
Fortunately for us, God is not only a promise maker, but a promise keeper.  Our problem with God and His promises has nothing to do with Him being good for them, but that He seems in no hurry to keep them.  We could talk to Abraham about that one.  Or, maybe the Hebrew children who pleaded and waited for God to act and take them home.  In the first chapter of Romans, Paul writes, "...set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy scriptures,..." (Romans 1:2)  Once again, there is a long time between promise given and promise kept.   And, here we are in this gospel era waiting for the promise of the return of Christ.  Once again, it has been a long time since the promise was given.  Though not yet kept, it will surely be.

No, the problem we have is not with the faithfulness of God to keep His promises, but the way He waits to do so.  We would like for Him to operate within the boundaries of expediency, especially when our life or the life of our loved one hangs in the balance.  While He does, we do not have the luxury of a thousand years, at least not on this earth.  There is no doubt that God is a promise keeper.  But, He is also a promise keeper who waits until "...the fullness of time (has) come..."  (Galatians 4:4)  And, so we are called to wait.  Confident He will keep His promises.  Hoping for soon.

Monday, February 20, 2017

More than Words

While words are important in any kind of communication, they are not always necessary in prayer.  Prayer is a spiritual communication God has ordained enabling us and Him to experience a depth in our relationship that would otherwise be impossible.  It is one of those things about which we can read, but which is best learned about through disciplined practice.  Practice may not always mean perfection, but in the case of prayer, it does keep us pointed in that direction.  A sense of "never arriving" is common to those who take prayer seriously. 
Sometimes we suddenly find ourselves being aware that the Spirit of God is sweeping over and into our lives.  He comes in a way that speaks not of our intentional seeking, but of His seeking of us.  Without us breathing any prayer words or expressing any desire for His presence, He suddenly shows up in a way that leaves us aware only of His presence.  Surely, such is as much a moment of prayer as any we might initiate.  Is it not true that prayer has a door which can be opened at both ends?  One door is at our end and the other end is at the place where God's hand reaches. 
The Word is clear that we are to understand Him as a seeking God. The father figure who looks for the prodigal son to return and runs to greet him serves as our best illustration of this truth.  We do not often think of this seeking God as one who opens the door to initiate a moment of presence with us.  Maybe we are too busy to realize it is happening.  Maybe the door at our end is so closed that our hearts cannot be aware He is just on the other side of the one opened by our hand.  "Listen!  I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me."  (Revelation 3:20)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Prepared for Ahead

During the last 21 years of my ministry, I served churches in Vidalia, Perry, and Richmond Hill.   Every year except for a couple, I led Disciple Bible Study groups.  Each group lasted from August to May and covered the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.  Each weekly session lasted 2 1/2 hours.  It was not a Bible study for the faint hearted.  It was a rigorous discipline and I made no effort to present it in any other way.  After a couple of years I came to learn something.  It seemed that there was always someone in the group who God had brought to the study as a way of preparing them for a difficult time that was ahead of them. 
Such a thing should not surprise any of us.  We do not know what is ahead in our lives.  What is around the next turn in our journey remains unseen by us until the future becomes the present moment.  In the book "Jayber Crow,"  Wendell Berry tells us through one of his characters that not knowing what is ahead is evidence of the mercy of God.  And when we slow down a bit and think, we soon realize that not knowing is indeed a thing of mercy.  Who would want to live today with the   knowledge of some hard thing that is still a week, or a month, or even years ahead?  While we may sometimes wish we knew what was going to happen in our future, there is mercy in not knowing.
While we do not know what is coming tomorrow, God does.  He knows what is ahead.  What He is doing in what is the unknown part of our journey is to prepare us for what is ahead of us.  To remember Abraham's sojourning, Moses tending the sheep of his father-in-law, and the three year internship of the disciples with Jesus should be assurance enough.  Rough places are ahead.  Challenging moments are before us.  Even impossible situations are waiting.  But, God knows and God is working now to make us ready.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

One at a Time

When I started blogging back in 2008, I had no idea where the whole thing would go.  I figured a few now and again just to offer some word about my spiritual journey to those who sat in the pews and listened to me preach Sunday after Sunday.  I never really thought about writing almost 800 blog posts over the years that followed.  Some of those years only a few were written and some years a few more.  One came after the one before it and so it has gone these years.  Like everything else in life, the emphasis of the posting has changed from reflections of personal moments to sharing reflections on scripture. 
It reminds me a lot of the preaching journey I undertook back in 1966 when I heard what was then spoken of as "a call to preach."  Preaching was only part of what that call was about, but preaching was always an integral part of what I did in response to that call.  While I did at one time keep track of sermons preached, the importance of keeping track of the number of them faded over the years.  Still, I know preaching on an average of twice a Sunday for some 40+  years adds up to quite a sum.  If I had known how many sermons I would be writing and preaching at the beginning, I would have thought it to be beyond the range of possibilities.  But, one at a time is what life is often all about.
It is that way for most of us in our journey of faith.  It is a one day at a time kind of thing.  It is going from one moment of living out our faith to the one which follows.  When we look back we are likely to see ourselves doing some things we would have thought impossible back in the beginning.  Who among us saw ourselves going to people in trouble and offering help?  Who among us saw ourselves going to speak comfort when no comfort was going to be found?  Back in the beginning who among us saw the sacrifices we have made in order to follow Christ?  How have we done all we have done?  Surely,  it is because of God's grace.  But, it is also because we have done what we have done one at a time.  As the Word says, "...let us not grow weary in doing what is right..."  (Galatians 6:9)

Friday, February 17, 2017

The IHOP Guy

We often have breakfast at a particular IHOP when we travel.  We get there enough, we have gotten to know one of the servers and are often greeted in such a way as to make us feel like one of the locals.  He is a real go-getter.  He hustles.  He is always attentive to those at his table.  The other day I saw him just standing at the counter looking out the window.  And, then he left quickly going outside.  I saw him standing at the door holding it open with his back while he looked across the parking lot at a woman who was slowly pushing her husband in a wheelchair.  He stood there, holding the door for them until they entered and then it was back to work. 
His was simply an act of kindness.  An act of compassion. They did not go to his tables so it was not something done to get a big tip.  It seemed more like he saw someone who needed some help and he allowed himself to be separated from what kept him busy long enough to respond.  We are often tempted to think that there is nothing we can do to make a difference in the lives of those around us.  It is simply not true.  Each one of us is give opportunities each day by God to make a difference for someone.  We just get too busy to see.
The couple who entered IHOP that cool morning surely felt special.  An act of kindness gave them reason to smile and surely for a moment that woman's load seemed lighter to push. Changing the hard circumstance of another person's life we may not be able to do, but we can be seen as one of those who cares enough to reach out with kindness.  When we pray today, it might be a good thing to ask God to bring into our path those whom we are equipped to help.  If we do, we might be surprised.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

An Unforgetable Guy

We were just sitting there at one of our regular fast food eateries.  Having decided to eat in the car, we were getting stuff out of the bags.  I think I saw him out on the edge of things before I consciously realized who he was.  His dress and rough appearance fit the stereotype of a homeless guy.  But, hurry was the name of this meal and so not much was really registering except getting the food out.  All of a sudden he filled my vision as he stopped in front of the trash can just beyond the front of the car.  In one quick motion he pulled off the lid, reached in, pulled out a partially eaten sandwich, stuffing it in his mouth as he picked up a cup not yet emptied.  With his head back he gulped down the drink remnants, slammed the lid back on the can, and then he was gone.  Before I could get my hand out of the sack, he was halfway across the parking lot.
Surprised and stunned I sat there a moment watching him.  Suddenly I realized I had small ice chest filled with cokes in the back of the car.  I could have given him one, or two.  I could have given him my sack and gone for more.  But, I had done nothing.  I sat there with guilt feelings falling down heavy upon me as I knew I should have acted.  I should have gone after him.  But, by the time those feelings of shame fell upon me, he had disappeared.  I had done nothing and now the moment was gone.
Jesus said to be ready.  We do not know the hour of His appearing.  Maybe the context of the Word from Him has to do with a history ending event, but maybe it can also be understood to be ready for the moments when He will appear before us through the presence of those thought to be the least among us.  The hungry.  The homeless.  The sick.  The forgotten.  The suffering ones.  The least.  Mark me as one who remembers that moment with regret and who prays that the next time I will be ready.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Called to be Clear

Paul makes no bones about it.  He is as he puts it, "...called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God..."  (Romans 1:1)  Sent and set apart by God.  No one has to wonder who he sees himself as being.  I remember back in my middle teenage years when I was moving toward God, but not there yet.  I wanted to see myself as a Christian, but I did not want anyone to know.  I wanted to blend in with all the others who were my age.  It seemed to me then that declaring myself a Christian would set me apart in a way I wanted to avoid.
Strange as it might sound, it is an issue which afflicts many who serve in the ranks of the clergy.  What often happens to those who have been "sent and set apart by God" is that they end up wanting to be just like everyone else.  They want to blend in.  They want to be liked, accepted, and patted on the back. For some this expresses itself in some kind of extravagant behavior.  For some this expresses itself by making sure nothing about their appearance resembles the traditional image of a pastor.  Clergy robes and ties are avoided on Sunday and weekday attire is blue jeans and t-shirts.  And, in some cases profane language is adopted and excused as acceptable in order to be one of the guys.  Certainly, all these things are superficial, but they may also be pointing toward some confusion about what it means to be "sent and set apart by God."

The truth is anyone who professes to be "sent and set apart by God" is different.  Fitting in is not an option.  Faithfulness requires standing in a different place, in a different way, and with different values.  When the one "sent and set apart by God" stands up, there is no confusion.  And, what is true of those who wear the mantle of the clergy are no different than anyone who has been touched by the baptismal waters. The waters set us all apart.  No one should ever be confused about the One for whom we stand.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

An Observation

Being attentive is not always easy.  Busy is what drives our life and busy does not allow for the kind of stillness that attentiveness requires.  Still, once in a while what is usually missed is seen anyway.  Such a moment came a few days ago while looking out the window of a motel.  The front of the building was several hundred feet from the road and there in the grassy area between were pecan trees.  Not just one or two, but a number of them planted in rows as orchards are planted.  In a flash I realized the motel had been built on what was once someone's pecan orchard, a place where people lived and scraped a living from the dirt.  Thousands of people drive by every day going to wherever it is life calls them to go and most likely they go so fast they never glimpse the sight of what used to be. 
One of the things missing in our culture is how our lives are entwined with those who have come before us.  We live too much in the now to see that glimpse of time which enables us to see others who moved through the physical space we take for granted.  One of the inherent teachings of the sacred Word speaks of our connection to those who are unseen; yet, who have come before us.  There is a visible community around us, but there is another which though unseen has a measure of bearing on the life we live.  We always are standing on someone's shoulders.  We are always the beneficiaries of someone's prayers. 
Like those souls who crawled around these pecan trees, we, too, are leaving footprints someone will one day see.  What will they say?  Will they wonder why we did not care for the land entrusted to us?  Will there be any signs left of what was important to us?  Will those signs point toward things that have long faded away, or will they point them toward the eternal things of God which gave our life meaning and which can do the same for them?  What will they see in those transcendant moments when some vision of what once was is opened up for them to see?  The story we are telling is still being written.  Write it well.

Monday, February 13, 2017


If we were the ones writing the scripture, we would likely use different words in some places.  The word "slave" is a word that makes us uncomfortable.  It brings to mind a dark moment in our own nation's history and it also makes us deal with the fact that slavery still exists in some parts of our 21st century world.  We would just as soon for Paul to use another word to speak of himself and his relationship with Christ.  He could have used "friend," or "disciple," or even "buddy."  It is hard for us to think of our relationship with Christ as one where He is our Master and we are slaves.
Where slavery has existed in the world and where it exists now, the creed of the slave is, "I live to serve my master.  I live to do the bidding of my master who has absolute authority and power over me, even the power of life and death."  What is obviously true is the fact that this creed is not embraced voluntarily, but instead speaks of a lifestyle forced upon the slave under threat of punishment or death.  It is never a life lived by choice.  Coercion is the more appropriate reason.
However, as Paul uses the term as he does in the beginning of the letter to the Romans, a different kind of relationship is being lifted up.  The creed of the slave of Christ is, "I live to serve my Master.  I live to do the bidding of my Master to whom I give absolute authority and power over my life, even the power of life and death."  Here is a relationship based not on coercion, but one based on choice.  A disciple of Jesus chooses to serve Christ.  While the idea of serving may still be an offensive thought to some, it must be recognized that we either choose to serve Christ, or we choose to serve the evil which exists in the world and is always seeking to undermine the good that He is seeking to do all around us.  We are going to be a slave to one or the other.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Kinder Word

When the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Roman Christians, he identifies himself in the beginning as "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ..."  (Romans 1:1)  While I am no Greek scholar and while I am envious of one of my clergy friends who still reads his Greek New Testament, I do remember a few words from my seminary classroom where Greek was taught.  So, when I read the word "servant" I remembered that a more literal translation is "slave."  The word "servant" is a kinder, more gentle, and perhaps, more politically correct for ears that might be offended by the word "slave."  No one wants to think of themselves according to our historical memories of slavery in this country. 
But, still the truth remains.  The word we often translate to mean "servant" is more accurately translated "slave."  Of course, slavery was a part of Paul's world.  And while the apostle may have been attempting to bring to mind some aspects of the institutional slavery which was a part of his culture, he was really going in a different direction as he spoke of being a slave of Jesus Christ.  In Paul's word a slave had no choices.  A slave always had to do the bidding of the master, or face consequences.  It was not a world in which anyone would choose to live.
But, as Paul speaks of being a slave of Christ, he is going to a different place.  A slave lives a life thrust upon him.  There is no choice.  What Paul points to is a choice not thrust upon us, but one chosen.  A slave of Christ is one who chooses not to be a slave to sin and instead chooses to be a slave to righteousness.  We choose to be a slave to one of those two masters.  Sin or Christ.  To one or the other we submit ourselves to live under our chosen authority.  Slave to sin or slave to Christ.  Choose this day whom you will serve. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A Prayer

Some years ago while living in Columbus, Ga. I became a big fan of country music.  There was a DJ whom I knew personally and I listened a lot to him during the day.  Before I knew it, I was hooked.  One day I discovered something about my new interest.  Not only could I sing all the country songs I was hearing, but when my mind went to neutral, one of them would automatically come to mind.  All day long I was either listening to the songs about broken hearts and drinking or I was letting them fill my thoughts.  Whatever we put in speaks to what we will become. 
Somewhere along that route, I decided I needed to be filling my mind and heart with something different.  A spiritual life needed spiritual fuel and it was a stronger spiritual life that I was truly seeking.  When we begin to allow our hearts and spirits to be fed with spiritual stuff like reading the Word, or singing songs of faith, or listening to those who have spiritual insight, we find a different thing happening when our minds come to the neutral position.  All of us have had the experience of some word of scripture coming to mind out of the blue, or having some song sung long, long ago suddenly show up on the front burner of our life.
It happened much that way for me the other morning.  As I looked ahead toward what is going to be a difficult time, I did what we all do.  I prayed.  But, it somehow seemed for naught.  And then I became aware of old gospel song sung so very long ago.  "Precious, Lord, take my hand, Lead me on, let me stand, I am tired, I am weak, I am worn; Through the storm, through the night, Lead me on to the light: Take may hand, precious Lord, Lead me home."   All day I found myself silently singing the song.  About midway through the day, I realized what it was.  It was not just a long forgotten song, but a prayer given to me by a Spirit seeking to direct my praying in a way that was truly beyond me. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Mostly Worn Out

In 2004 a German Shorthair puppy came to live with us.   While she still runs most everywhere she goes, her muzzle is gray and before she jumps on the tail gate of the truck, she pauses as if to consider what is ahead of her.  Sometimes she walks away instead of leaping. Instead of calling her by her given name, I have started calling her "Old Girl" as she runs ahead of this old man who slowly plods behind her.  The old man who follows her is mostly worn out.  John Wesley's preachers of which I am one, used to be spoken of as being "worn out."  It is a good description of this one.  I am not as "rar-in to go" as I used to be.  And while there are times I have a spurt of holy energy, I am mostly worn out.  Maybe there is a little left in the tank to be used one day, but I wonder if such thoughts speak more of hope than reality.

What is truly worn out is my old Bible.  When I went to Vidalia UMC, I went with a shabby pulpit and study Bible.  I figured it had to be replaced lest people thought I was more of a Biblical scholar that I knew myself to be.  So, I bought two Bibles, exactly alike, except one was black and one was blue.  I started using the black one for study and for use in the pulpit.  By the time I went to my next appointment, it, too, had gotten shabby so I kept it for study and used the blue one only for the pulpit.  Only recently have I realized this black Bible has got to be retired.  The cover is about gone, too many pages are torn, and most of the not inspired material in the back has been damaged beyond use.  It looks like I am going to have to bring out the blue Bible and put the other one in a box where old Bibles reside.

Things just wear out.  Dogs do.  Preachers do.  Bibles do.  Old men like me do as well.  The only thing we have which is the exception to this rule is the soul.   Our creator has put one in each one of us.  Nary a one is like another.  The most important thing we tend in this life is this soul within us.  It is our connection to God.  It is the means through which we have fellowship with God and it is through it that we will experience eternity with God in the heavenly place.  There is no collection place for worn out souls.  They are made to go on and on and on forever in the eternity being readied for us in this very moment.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Holy Pages

I have been reading an author lately who is a real advocate for keeping a journal.  As I read what he is writing, I find myself wishing I had been involved in this discipline all my life.  But, the truth is, such has not happened.  There have been periods of time when I did some journal writing, but sporadic is more the word to describe it than disciplined.  My memory is not always dependable to help me remember where I was on this spiritual journey at past moments of my life.  Being able to read what I had written back then would no doubt shed new light on who I really was and what I was really like instead of depending on this faulty memory which tends to make me look better than I actually might have been.
I actually set aside a notebook of blank pages at the beginning of the year for this exact purpose, but it still remains a sporadic exercise.  I tell myself I am not sure what to write.  I think what I keep looking for is something that is going to be profound and extraordinary which means I am forgetting that God is one who keeps revealing Himself in the ordinary, even mundane moments, of my life.  Or, maybe I am too lazy to have the attentiveness that is necessary to really experience fully the presence of God's kingdom being worked out in and around me. 
Still, like any considered spiritual discipline, I sense in my spirit that there is something important going on with this divine beckoning.  There are many windows through which the Holy Spirit can move into our lives and surely the discipline of journaling is just another one.  And, then there is the matter of obedience.  Divine beckoning is a call to act and not acting speaks of not being interested in what God may be wanting to do in my life.  The only way to know for sure is to start filling in those set apart blank pages.  Set apart.  Another word for holy.  Maybe there is something holy about those empty pages.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Over my Shoulder

A lot of things have happened to people while reading Romans.  As I read Romans 1:16-17 this morning,  it seemed to me that I was not alone.  The feeling was so strong I actually looked over my shoulder.  I am not going to say I saw anyone, but I suddenly became aware that I was reading something which had been read by others for such a long time.  I thought of Martin Luther, the instigator of the Protestant Reformation, and John Wesley, the father of Methodism, both of whom had the direction of their lives changed by these early verses of Romans.  And alongside of them was Augustine, a 4th century church father, and Karl Barth, a 20th century theologian.  Both had their lives impacted by this 1st century letter to the early church in Rome.

Of course, there were more than just four in the room with me by then.  It was as if the room was overflowing with believers not so different than me who had read these words and held them in their hearts.  I do not think there has been a time when I have been so aware of how I was doing something that had been done by so many for so many centuries.  It truly seemed that I had stepped into this stream of the faithful ones of God who had read the very Word I was reading, cherished it, lived by it, and found their hope within it.  It was a moment of not being alone, but of sensing the fellowship of the many who had gone on before me.

If being read for so long by so many adds to the credibility of what is being read, then there can be no more credible reading than what we know as the written Word of God.  It is mind boggling to think about how many times one single passage has been read and how many have held it in their hands.  This morning I rejoiced in the fact that I was one of that crowd of believers who had read from Romans and known that it truly was the power of God for salvation for everyone....even me.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Purpose

John had one purpose for writing his gospel.  He makes it very clear in the 31st verse of the 20th chapter.  At this point the Word of God says, "But these things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in His name."  This story was not written to entertain readers.  It was not written to correct any theological heresies.  It was not written to make a name for the author.  It was written for one single and one most important purpose.  John wanted people to believe in Jesus.  His is a gospel bent toward the persuasive.
It often seems that we have forgotten why a man would write with such a purpose.  It seems strange that a man would write with such a passion for one single thing.  So much of what we hear as the gospel these days lacks the urgency of this message from John, the disciple of Jesus.  Too often the preachers sound the message in a "take it or leave it--it doesn't really matter" fashion.  Seldom do we hear the call to believe now instead of when you have time to get to it.  Sermons have become little talks to make folks feel comforted or good about themselves instead of hard words that the Spirit can use to bring listeners to a place of being convicted and convinced of the sin present in the heart.
When I was learning to preach, no sermon was considered finished until some kind of invitation was offered.  The idea was that preaching was to be persuasive and not informational; thus, people should always be given an opportunity to respond in some way.  In that context, it was not unusual to invite people to believe in Jesus as their Savior.  It is unfortunate such is no longer the norm because the need of people to hear a persuasive invitational word has not changed.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Morning Smoke

One of my favorite Biblical stories comes in the 21st chapter of John after Jesus serves breakfast on the beach.  Reading between the lines with a healthy imagination enables me to see Jesus rising from the ground, clearing His throat, nodding His head toward Simon Peter in an invitational kind of way, and then walking off with him down the beach.  His arm is around Peter's shoulder as they walk away from the place the meal was shared. The morning smoke does as it always seems to do.  It hangs heavy in the air, close to the ground.   Three times Jesus asks, "Do you love me?"  "You know that I love you," declares Peter.  And then Peter smells the smoke that is drifting heavy in the air and he remembers the last time such a smell filled the air.  It was the night when he three times denied he knew Jesus. 
Surely, it was a moment when Peter's shame and sorrow hung more heavily in the air than the morning smoke.  As quick as the wind shifts from one direction to another, the mood of Peter changed from pleasure at being pulled apart from the group to deep sorrow for his own betrayal of this One he professed to love so much.  But, as surely as Jesus had gone to the locked upper room for Thomas, He walked now on the beach for Simon Peter.  It was not  the intent of Jesus to bring shame and judgment upon the head of Peter, but to bring to him an assurance that he still belonged.  There was no judgment and condemnation in the air, only mercy and forgiveness.
The things within us that we would choose not to face about ourselves are surely known to Jesus.  As we see Jesus and Peter, we are reminded that not even these dark things of the heart are beyond the mercy of our Lord.  He sees in us what we do not want to see and what others cannot see; yet, He still looks at us with a spirit and heart of forgiveness.  He is ready to assure us that we still belong to Him.  His love is always greater than our darkest and deepest sin.   

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Breakfast on the Beach

The gospel writer John could tell a good fishing story which is what he did in that 21st chapter of the gospel that bears his name.  Good fishing stories are not filled with generalities, but specifics.  No good one is told without details and most of them embellished!  The Breakfast on the Beach fishing tale has all sorts of specifics.  Just after daybreak  No fish, then a boatload.  To be exact, 153.  Good fishing stories always include how many are caught and how many got away. Nets full of fish.  Large fish.  One hundred yards off shore.  A charcoal fire with fish cooking.  Specifics abound!

When the fishing part of the story comes to a close, the disciples are on the beach smelling fish cooking over a charcoal fire.  The disciples had fished all night and caught nothing until Jesus told them what to do and there is Jesus on the beach without His feet being wet with fish cooking.  Where and how did He get His fish?  And why did He tell them to bring some from the overflowing nets?  The silence of those fishermen around the fire and in the presence of Jesus surely indicates the fact that the turn of events was overwhelming.  No one had started the night of fishing expecting to eat fish cooked by Jesus on the beach.  Fish and bread for breakfast.  If that did not bring back a memory of another time of great blessing, nothing would.

Once again we see Jesus in the midst of the ordinary.  Once again He is out there with all the human stuff.  The smell of the dressed fish on His hands.  The smut from the fire.  The odor of sweaty working men all around Him.  Smoke blowing and burning His eyes.  Being aware of the discomfort of others simply because He is present with them.  Jesus surely shows up in the sacred spaces of the sanctuaries in which we gather on Sunday, but if we should be missing Him there, look more closely at the commonplace, the profane, the ordinary, the sweat and blood kind of places and He will likely be found and experienced every bit as much, if not more than He often is on those sacred Sunday morning hours.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Missing Disciples

By my count some are missing.  The 21st chapter of John starts out with a fishing story.  Simon Peter says, "I am going fishing."  Six other disciples responded, "We will go with you."   Six and one makes seven.  Seven is a long way from twelve, or eleven considering Judas Iscariot has permanently left the group.  And one of the six, Nathaniel, is not one of the original band of The Twelve, but a "Johnny-come-lately."  (John 1:45 ff.)  Regardless of how it is figured, it is obvious that some are missing.  Maybe they did not like the idea of going fishing, but what they missed was more than fish. They missed a blessing.

How many times have we missed a blessing we could have received from Jesus if we had just shown up?  Maybe those missing from that morning fishing trip figured there were more important fish to fry than getting out and actually catching some which is certainly an understandable possibility.  And, maybe our life is so full of things that we have deemed as most important that there is no room for Jesus to show up in our life in some surprising and unpredictable moment.  I remember some years ago at one of those church meeting when a speaker shared how his church always included a line item in the budget for any unplanned things the Holy Spirit might want to do.  His was a church that expected the Spirit to provide leading through the course of the year that was outside the boundary of expectations or planning. 

Giving God room to act is always a good thing.  Doing that requires a lifestyle that has some flexibility built into it.  It may also mean being open to moving in directions that seem a bit unsettling or uncomfortable.  The point is we sometimes have such a "poured in concrete" understanding about how Jesus is going to bless us that we give Him no room to bring those blessings into our lives.  We end up missing blessings from Him that He would choose to give. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

A Circuitous Route

Few encounter with Jesus stories are known as well and preached more than the one which belongs to  Thomas.  No one hears the name without attaching the label, "Doubter."  On the afternoon of the resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples who had gathered secretly in Jerusalem behind locked doors, but Thomas was not with them.  And later when those who were present told him about their encounter with the risen Jesus, he would not believe them.  Though they were trusted friends with whom he had spent three good years, the word they spoke about Jesus beating death was too much for him to handle.  So, the middle name "Doubter" became a part of his identity.
Of course, he allowed himself to be persuaded to show up in the same place the next Sunday and Jesus showed up, too.  To read the story of the encounter is to see that Jesus came that day for Thomas.  While Thomas is known as the one who doubted, it is also true that he should be remembered as one who  came to a belief that would carry him to his own moment of dying for the sake of Jesus. The story of Thomas reminds us that the journey of faith sometimes takes a circuitous route.  The important thing was not his doubt, but his belief.  More than anything else, this is what the gospel writer wants us to see. 
There are many things important in our life, but none is more important than personal faith in this Christ who died and was raised from the dead for all our sakes.  If the sum of all our encounters with Jesus brings us to such a place, then none of them have been in vain.  Few of us always travel the road that goes in a straight line to the desired destination.  Thomas may have taken a detour that afternoon of the resurrection, but he stayed with it through the confusion and came to a belief that sustained his life and carried him home.  And, so it can and often goes for us, too.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Name Calling

How many times a day do we hear someone using our name in their conversations with us?   Try an experiment today.  Count the number of times you hear your name.  No doubt we heard it many times a day when we were growing up at home.  Our parents were constantly using it to separate us from the herd.  But, later it life, it seems different.  Sometimes not even those intimate others in our life use our name.  We can spend a day with friends and never hear it.  We often come to a place where we miss hearing it.  And, when someone does use our name, it really gets our attention.  Our name is important to us.  It is good to hear it.
In the garden of the empty tomb, we hear Jesus speaking to a bewildered woman, "Mary!"  (John 20:16)  Upon hearing Jesus speak her name, the confusion of the moment was gone.  She immediately knew Him.    In another very familiar story, we hear Jesus saying to a woman too busy with the details of getting ready for Him, "Martha, Martha,..."  (Luke 10:41)  And, of course, there is that story of Jesus standing outside a tomb and crying out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" (John 11:43)  And, he did.  Some say had Jesus not called out the name of Lazarus, all the dead would have come out on His command!  What a sight that would have been!  Calling the name carries with a note of intimacy; it communicates attention; it is a declaration of knowing.

Jesus knows the name of each one of us.  In one place He speaks of those who love Him as His friends.  Friends know names.  Jesus knows you and He knows me.  While most of us are not as disciplined as we need to be to hear Him speaking to us, if we are we should surely not be surprised to hear our own name being sounded in the inner part of our being where we hear the divine voice.  Learn to listen.  It is worth the investment of whatever time it takes.  Imagine Jesus speaking to us and imagine Him speaking our name.   Listen.  Listen.  Keep listening.  Be assured He is speaking.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Coming Out

Today's Christian young people are more visible and vocal about their faith than I was when I belonged to that age group.  As I look back through ancient eyes and a memory that fades now and again, I realize that God was working on my heart at a very early age.  Even before my teenage years I lived with both a consciousness of God and an awareness of a certain oughtness in my life.  By the time I reached early adolescence. I knew I wanted to live as a Christian.  And, I called myself doing it.  But, I also wanted no one to know.  With all the teenage pressure to be accepted and be "in," I decided it was in my best interest to be a Christian without anyone knowing about it.  This went on for years before I finally came to that moment of coming out.
Had I been Biblically as literate as I might have been, I would have seen a couple of folks in the scripture who went the "let's be a secret Christian" route.  One was Joseph of Arimathea about whom the Word says, "who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one..."  (John 19:38) and the other one was Nicodmus who much earlier in his life sought out Jesus under the cover of darkness.  At this point in the gospel story, both show up to tend to the tend body of Jesus.  They had their coming out at the cross.  One can only wonder it they had not from a respectable distance watched the horror on that hill.  And when it was done, neither the public eye nor keeping Jewish law took precedence over showing this act of devotion for Jesus.

When folks saw Joseph and Nicodemus doing what they did, they surely thought, "they are one of them."  Using today's vernacular, they had "outed" themselves.  It took standing before the crucified Christ on the cross to being them out in the open as disciples of Jesus. The cross has that kind of power over folks.  To come before with eyes to see who died there and for whom He died can be a life changing experience.  Some of us have stood there and we made the decision to walk with the Christ out there in the sunlight of our life.  It is the only choice which truly speaks of gratitude to the Creator God for the life and the love He has given us.  Stand now alongside Joseph, Nicodemus, and centuries of others who have made that life changing choice.